Malaysia state elections: PH-BN relations face stern test in Negeri Sembilan as PN eyes upset
Tussles over seat distribution and chief minister candidates have fuelled talk of an uneasy alliance in Negeri Sembilan between the two major coalitions in the unity government.
(CNA) – The upcoming state elections in Negeri Sembilan will feel strange for voters like Ikmal Syafiq.
The state, located in the western part of Peninsular Malaysia, has traditionally been a hotbed of political activity.
Recent polls in the state saw fierce contests primarily between candidates from Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN).
At the 15th General Election (GE15) in November 2022, the eight parliamentary seats in Negeri Sembilan saw BN win five while PH clinched the remaining three.
No other parties, including the federal opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional, hold any federal or state seats in the state.
The Election Commission is expected to announce the nomination and polling days for the six state polls of Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in the coming weeks.
Ahead of the six state elections, PH and BN will be working together under a pact of cooperation, similar to its alliance at the federal level.
Ikmal, who has lived in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan all his life, told CNA: “I think it feels especially weird for Negeri Sembilan because PH and BN have been enemies for so long here. The rivalry is strong. Voters and communities are divided across the two sides.”
“The two are also ideologically very different. It will be interesting to see how they work together,” said the 42-year-old business owner.
While most stakeholders in Negeri Sembilan expect the pact of PH-BN to retain control of Negeri Sembilan at the polls, many anticipate that the campaign will be a stern test on whether the two coalitions are able to work together effectively.
Meanwhile, the Perikatan Nasional coalition will also be looking to gain some ground in Negeri Sembilan, especially in areas where Malay Muslim voters form the large majority.
SEAT NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN PH, BN A POSSIBLE POINT OF CONTENTION?
One area that could potentially be a point of contention between PH and BN in Negeri Sembilan is the seat distributions between the two coalitions ahead of the state polls.
BN Negeri Sembilan chief Jalaluddin Alias has been reported by local media as saying that the coalition is asking for PH to give up two incumbent seats.
This is so that BN and PH would head into the state polls challenging 18 seats each.
There are 36 seats in total in the Negeri Sembilan state assembly, with PH currently holding 20 and BN the remaining 16. The Negeri Sembilan state assembly will be dissolved on Jul 1.
“As I told my friends in Harapan, this is the time for us to make sacrifices. Give and take in the spirit of cooperation because we want our machinery to be motivated to the maximum for both Harapan and BN,” Jalaluddin was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.
In a recent interview with The Star, the incumbent chief minister for Negeri Sembilan Aminuddin Harun reportedly said that PH’s “only” request was that status quo be maintained and that both coalitions be allowed to defend the seats they won in the last state polls in 2018.
However, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice-president also noted that BN was asking for two state assembly seats to be allocated to them. He said that the two seats, which have a high proportion of Malay voters, are currently held by Parti Amanah Nasional (Amanah), a PH component party.
Aminuddin did not specify what the two seats were. Amanah politicians are the incumbent in three state seats – Lenggeng, Paroi and Klawang.
“The Pakatan and Barisan Presidential Council will decide and we will all abide by the decisions,” Aminuddin reportedly said.
BN politician Zaifulbahri Idris, a three-term state assemblyman for the Chembong seat, told CNA that Jalaluddin’s request for BN and PH to contest 18 seats each is part of “the process of bargaining and negotiations”.
“As we are making a request, we ask for the most that we can. Whether it’s given or not, that’s up to the leadership (of BN and PH). If the request is not given, we will deal with it for the good of the agreement between both coalitions,” he added.
“What’s important for this election is that there is an understanding between the two coalitions. If a certain area is contested by a BN candidate, PH will help (in campaigning efforts). And vice versa, if the candidate is from PH, BN will help. So the understanding is that we do not clash,” said Zaifulbahri.
Meanwhile, some PH politicians in Negeri Sembilan who spoke to CNA acknowledged that there were disagreements with BN over seat distribution. However, they also pledge to adhere to the final decision of party leaders on the matter.
Arul Kumar, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) state assemblyman for Nilai, told CNA: “The seat negotiations are finalised by our leaders at the national level so we will abide by any decision made there. But the principle of seat distributions as I know it is that the party who won the seat in the last General Election will be allowed to defend the seat.”
“Based on what happened in 2018, DAP won 11 seats, PKR six seats and Amanah three seats. PH should hopefully be allowed to defend these seats for the coming election,” added Kumar, who is also political secretary to DAP secretary-general and Transport Minister Anthony Loke.
DAP is a component party within PH.
Political analyst James Chin, who is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania and Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia, told CNA that such negotiations are common before nomination day as political parties are keen to contest the maximum number of seats.
“It’s not possible that PH would settle for 18-18 in Negeri Sembilan because the golden rule in these negotiations is that if the party won the seat in the last polls, it should be allowed to defend it,” he added.