Johor’s Malay vote may thwart Pakatan’s quest for Putrajaya, say leaders


The second or third generation of voters in the traditionally pro-Umno FELDA settlements may potentially sway towards the opposition but not the first-generation settlers.

Mohd Farhan Darwis, Malaysian Insider

Despite Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) ambitious predictions in Johor for the coming polls, local leaders from the federal opposition front expect to stumble in their quest to unlock the Malay vote, which is seen as the key to break into Umno’s southernmost fortress.

The Malays make up close to 60 per cent of the three million-strong population of Johor, which is also home to a staggering 74 FELDA settlements spread out across 21 state constituencies. 

The FELDA Malay vote is often played by BN as its trump card during electoral battles, and has also been credited as among one of the key reasons behind the ruling pact’s survival of the 2008 political tsunami, particularly in Johor.

In Election 2008, BN lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority and ceded five states to the opposition, clinging to power only through its successes in Johor and east Malaysia.

But local PR leaders believe a slight 35 per cent vote swing among the Johor’s Malay electorate should suffice to topple BN in Johor in the next polls, provided the pact throws all its muscle behind ensuring that Johor’s non-Malays are willing to go anti-BN.

When met during recent interviews, several leaders told The Malaysian Insider that their respective parties have their sights set on the state’s mixed and urban seats, where the non-Malay voters make up a prominent percentage.

“For the Chinese voters, we are not worried… whether DAP or PKR, or even PAS — if we stand in a Chinese area, voters will opt for PR.

“The mixed areas, where the ratio is 50:50 (Malay:non-Malay) or 60:40 (Malay:non-Malay), we have potential to win… so these areas are our focus,” Johor PAS commissioner Datuk Dr Mahfodz Mohamed told The Malaysian Insider in an interview.

He described the Malay vote as Umno’s “lifeline”, admitting that it would be too difficult for PR to break into this vote bank.

“The Malay seats in the villages, FELDA areas, or Felcra, this is Umno’s lifeline… it’s definitely hard to breach. Perhaps we may have made some inroads but winning these seats would be tough.

“They are safe areas (for Umno), and have been gifted with many things from the party, they feel very obligated to the party there,” Mahfodz said.

He said the second or third generation of voters in the traditionally pro-Umno FELDA settlements may potentially sway towards the opposition but not the first-generation settlers.

PAS Youth chief Shuhaizan Kaiat echoed the same with his party leader, revealing that PAS has even placed Johor’s Malay majority seats as its lowest priority target for the coming general election.

“Areas with a large number of FELDA settlers particularly are our least focused target for votes… even lower than the rural villages as these settlements are difficult for our campaigners to even enter,” he said.

But with an estimated 70 per cent support from the state’s Chinese community, who make up over 35 per cent of Johor’s population, Shuhaizan said the state could well be in the bag for PR in GE13.

“We have no doubts of their support in PR,” he said.

In another interview, Johor Umno Information chief Datuk Sambul Bari Jamali also said he was confident that the state’s dominant Malay community would stay loyal to BN in the coming polls.

“I would not call them PR’s stumbling block, but it is true the Malays in Johor are loyal to their parties, loyal to Umno.

“Maybe PR has the support of some of the Malays in the urban areas, but what they (PR) have to see is this easy indicator — the Malays do make up Johor’s majority,” he said.

In Election 2008, BN returned a strong government in Johor when it trounced the opposition in 25 of 26 parliamentary seats and 50 of 56 state seats.

Without its victories in Johor, BN would have lost the battle in the peninsula to PR, with only 60 federal seats, in comparison with PR’s 79. 

Including the Johor seats, BN’s seat tally with PR stood at 85-80.