In Semenyih, can Pakatan win over Malay voters as BN ramps up race rhetoric?

Zainal Epi, Malay Mail Online

The weather is hot and humid in this town and so is the “political climate” as both Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) are fighting tooth and nail to claim the state seat of Semenyih.

PH is banking on a new face, 30-year-old engineer Muhammad Aiman Zainali from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as a catalyst of development for the nearly forgotten constituency, which is just some 45 minutes’ drive from the country’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

For BN, it’s on 58-year old former UKM assistant administration officer from Umno, Zakaria Hanafi to secure a win for the Opposition coalition but with different stakes compared to PH. 
While PH is hoping a win in Semenyih can boost its popularity among Malay voters, BN says a vote for Zakaria would ultimately mean a referendum from the 54,503 voters in Semenyih and a rejection of the PH government.
While PH has a fixed deposit of 8,939 Chinese votes of the total number of voters, and nearly 90 per cent of the total 7,062 Indian voters, the ruling coalition has yet to win over some 36,857 Malay voters in the state constituency, which it hopes to do within the next few days. 

There has already been a strong undercurrent of distrust among the Malay community towards PH after GE14, and Umno-BN has been quick to capitalise on that for political gain.

The narrative which has slowly been woven in during BN ceramahs is that the PH government has abandoned the Malays and has little interest with regards to their welfare — and is a claim which is gaining traction among some voters, even in Semenyih.

Adding to PH’s woes is Islamist party PAS which has some 9,000-odd members and supporters who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with Umno for this by-election.

Attempts by PH to attack PAS seem to have failed so far, as many are backing the narrative of an Umno-PAS alliance in the interest of Malay-Muslim unity.

Another factor is former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak — who seems to be doing an impressive job in wooing voters and supporters and speaking out on issues that people are unhappy about.

It is, after all quite straightforward when you are no longer in power, and Najib seems to have figured this out, judging by the amount of daily Facebook postings and statements that would give even Lim Kit Siang a run for his money.

Another setback for PH is contradictory statements being made by its leaders in Semenyih, such as the need to have a hospital, elimination of toll, the construction of a mosque and a few others.

PH seems to be playing catch-up to BN for now, and the ruling coalition’s nightly campaign ceramahs are attracting visibly smaller numbers than usual.

The going seems to get tougher for PH to retain its seat and this notion is visibly noticed where presence in PH’s nightly ceramahs is getting smaller than usual.

As polling day approaches, Umno-BN is going into the by-election with a single track mind and is unapologetic about it — pledging to protect Malay rights and Islam and demand that PH fulfill all of its election promises.

For PH, there is a need to ramp up their campaign strategy and to find its footing in Semenyih before polling day.