State polls more than a referendum on Anwar, says analyst

(FMT) – No more than 10 million people will vote in the coming six state elections but the results may spell trouble for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his key ally, Barisan Nasional.

While electoral watchdog Bersih has said the state polls should not be viewed as a referendum on the Anwar-led federal government, Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Pawi said voters may see things differently.

“It will indicate the acceptance of the unity coalition and its policies among voters,” he told FMT.

The government’s strong stance against corruption, efforts to reduce the cost of living, and the newly launched Madani Economy framework have won plaudits from observers and supporters.

But the unity coalition has also faced some tough questions over issues ranging from Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s appointment as the deputy prime minister despite his court cases, political appointments in government agencies, and the slow pace of reforms.

Awang Azman said the polls could have consequences that go beyond the six states, especially if the results favour Perikatan Nasional.

“It could affect inter-party dynamics within the unity coalition, especially for BN. They will need to show that their cooperation with PH is beneficial (to the rakyat).

“So, in a way, the polls will also be a referendum on BN and its top leadership over (its) decision to work with PH,” he said, adding this could lead to questions about whether BN should remain in the coalition.

Awang Azman said the results could also have an impact on the dynamics in PN, especially if PAS outperforms Bersatu.

“If PAS remains dominant (as they were in GE15), Bersatu will need to find ways to improve its image to avoid being seen as overly dependent on the Islamic party,” he said.

James Chin of the University of Tasmania also said the polls will be an indirect referendum on Anwar.

“For the first time, voters have the opportunity to cast their votes either for or against the Anwar administration, primarily because the coalition supporting him only came into being after GE15,” he told FMT.

Chin said while the outcome of the polls will not affect ties between the parties in the unity coalition, it could impact the stability of Anwar’s administration, especially where Umno is concerned.

“Umno will be the main party fighting for the Malay votes on behalf of the unity government,” he said.

Umno is contesting 107 of the 245 state seats, and the BN lynchpin is under pressure to deliver the much-sought-after Malay vote.

Chin said losses to PAS and Bersatu, which are also eyeing Malay seats, may lead to instability within Umno.

“And if Umno becomes unstable, then the unity government may not last,” he said.