12 Malay seats in Penang on the brink, say analysts

Eight seats held by Pakatan Harapan or Umno could be vulnerable, while four seats were vacated under the anti-hopping law after the assemblymen joined Bersatu.

(FMT) – Up to 12 Malay-majority seats in Penang could fall to Perikatan Nasional in the state assembly elections due in the coming weeks, according to forecasts by political analysts.

Eight of the seats are held by either Pakatan Harapan or Umno, while four seats were vacated after the assemblymen joined Bersatu, invoking an anti-hopping state law.

Six seats are on the mainland. PKR holds Pinang Tunggal, Telok Ayer Tawar and Penanti and Amanah holds Permatang Pasir. Umno holds Permatang Berangan and Sungai Dua.

On Penang island, PKR holds Pulau Betong and Amanah holds Bayan Lepas.

On the other side of the political aisle, Perikatan Nasional currently holds only Penaga.

The mainland seats of Bertam, Seberang Jaya and Sungai Acheh, and Telok Bahang on the island were held by assemblymen who switched allegiance to Bersatu.

They were booted out of the state assembly in March for falling foul of the state’s anti-party hopping laws.

Political analyst Azmi Hassan of Akademi Nusantara says PN has a chance to grab Bayan Lepas and Pulau Betong, two state seats within the Balik Pulau parliamentary constituency.

He based his prediction on the thin 1,582-vote majority for PKR’s Bakthiar Wan Chik in retaining Balik Pulau at the 2022 general election.

Azmi said PN has a good chance to win the three state seats of Seberang Jaya, Permatang Pasir and Penanti, which are within the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency. Permatang Pauh fell to PN in November after decades as the family seat of Anwar Ibrahim.

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk of Universiti Sains Malaysia saw potential gains for PN in Permatang Berangan and Sungai Dua, seats within the Tasek Gelugor parliamentary constituency which had been held by Umno.

However, Fauzi said PN were likely to win by only a small margin.

Azeem said PKR will face a huge challenge to retain its Malay-majority seats against a surging PN, but he still expected the party to give PN a good fight.

He also said that PN has a good chance of winning Sungai Acheh in the Nibong Tebal parliamentary constituency, which borders Perak.

Last week, PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin said the coalition could win nearly 20 seats in Penang.

Malay rejection of Umno and protest vote

Azeem said the swing demonstrated PN’s sway over Malay voters, as seen in the 2022 general election, strengthened by an Umno in decline.

“Umno is actually quite divided and, of course, the strategy at the central level of working with DAP does not go down well with some of its hardcore supporters,” he told FMT.

“They might decide not to go out to vote or they might register protest votes (by voting PN).”

Fauzi added that the sentiment in rural Penang is very much against PH and Umno. He said PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim may well have improved his image among the Malays, but the same could not be said for other PH component parties such as DAP and Amanah, or unity government partner Umno.

“They (rural voters) are not necessarily pro-PAS but they will vote for PAS as a protest against Umno and to show that in their view, there is no change in Umno,” he told FMT

“Of course, Umno will say that it has changed and is moving towards transformation and so on, but I think that (message) has not filtered through to the grassroots level.

“Those who used to support Umno won’t come out to vote or they will vote for PAS and PN.”

He also cited Umno’s support for former prime minister Najib Razak as one of the reasons why the Malays will not embrace the Barisan Nasional lynchpin again.

“If Umno takes the decision to back Najib, whose crimes have been proven in court and has been found guilty, then it will be very difficult for Malays to support Umno.

“This will also affect votes for PH, because it is in coalition with Umno, especially in seats where they (might) field Umno candidates.

State assembly elections were last held in 2018 concurrently with the parliamentary general election. PH won 37 seats in Penang, with BN taking two seats and PAS one.