Political implications of Permatang Pauh, Rompin

Permatang Pauh

Lim Sue Goan, My Sinchew

The by-elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin have benchmark effects on both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat, and the results could trigger reverberations within both political camps.Both camps could make use of these two by-elections to observe how the public feel about the current situation, and as such, these two by-elections can never be simplified just as another two by-elections.

These two by-elections could be seen as a tug of war between the ruling and opposition pacts on a number of issues, including the GST, Mahathir’s blast against Najib, the cross protests, etc which may be pull factors for Pakatan, as well as the hudud law issue, internal split within Pakatan, etc that might work in the favor of BN. Both BN and Pakatan have their own problems, and that put the voters in these two constituencies in a dilemma as to how they should vote.

Voters from differently social backgrounds may look at things differently. For instance Permatang Pauh residents living on the fringe of the city could feel some pressure owing to rising goods prices, and would therefore have more pertinent feelings over the GST issue.

As for Rompin, since majority of the constituency is made up of rural areas and Felda settlements where the people seldom eat out, the impact from GST is less perceivable.

No doubt majority of Chinese voters fear the hudud law, and will see from the Permatang Pauh by-election which between GST and hudud is more detrimental. PAS is banking on the hudud issue to lure its supporters and with almost 88% of voters being Malays, Rompin offers a unique platform for the party to test out its hudud.

Although Mahathir’s blast against PM Najib is a boon for Pakatan supporters, but it is yet to be seen how this will work out in the Malay community, and how the Malays will resonate with Mahathir’s whip over the 1MDB debt issue.

All these have yet to be seen, particularly in Rompin.

Permatang Pauh is the home of Anwar Ibrahim, and this will be the fourth time Wan Azizah has been running in the constituency in the absence of her husband. She should therefore command specific edge over her rivals, but the hudud issue might make this advantage dubious now.

The fundamental support base of PKR in Permatang Pauh should at best be based upon the results of the 2004 general elections when Mahathir’s bowing out of politics in favor of his successor Tun Abdullah had to some extent eroded the anti-Umno sentiment among Permatang Pauh residents.Back then Kak Wan defeated her Umno rival Firdaus by a slim 590-vote majority.

Umno clinched 21,147 votes and PKR 21,737 votes in 2004. The total number of voters was 54,041. Even though the number of voters has since increased to 72,513 today, it is safe to say that the fundamental support base for PKR is about half.

According to Umno’s statistics, about 51.7% Malay voters supported Umno in 2013, but given the fact that Chinese voters went full force to support Pakatan, PKR managed to score an impressive 11,721-vote majority.

Since the support among Malay voters is about 50-50, it will now come down to the non-Malay voters, in particular the 23% of Chinese voters.

Umno has a strong organization and network in Rompin, and as such it will be very hard for PAS to win on the hudud ticket. But given an interplay of various other issues, it is unlikely for BN to secure the 15,000-majority it used to get two years ago, including lower voter turnout because the polling day is not a public holiday.

From what my colleagues have observed, Umno ministers have gone all out to campaign in the interiors of Rompin for fear its majority would be slashed this time, while there are signs Chinese voters might turn to BN.

To Pakatan Rakyat, there is no way they should lose Permatang Pauh, for it is the political base of Anwar Ibrahim, and that the constituency is inside DAP-controlled Penang state.

The by-election will be a barometer to gauge the public’s confidence towards Pakatan. If the seat is lost, especially with Chinese voters turning against Pakatan, it will make the opposition pact’s chances in mixed constituencies all the more precarious,.and chances to capture Putrajaya in GE14 next to impossible.

As such, Lim Guan Eng declared that the polling day would be a state public holiday, while the state assembly sitting that is supposed to begin on April 30 has been postponed to May 11. In the meantime, Pakatan has also launched a campaign to encourage outstation voters to come back and vote. The previous poor voter turnouts in Kajang, Bukit Gelugor and Teluk Intan have shown that Chinese Malaysians have grown indifferent to politics.

If Kak Wan loses because of low voter turnout, the split among PKR, DAP and PAS will be expedited.

As for Umno, the amount of Malay votes cast in its favor will determine whether a lurking crisis will eventually explode in full force. If Umno’s Malay support is further eroded, the position of PM Najib could be in peril.