Stress test for PH-BN marriage

Pressure is on DAP’s Pang Sock Tao to prove that all is well between the partners in the unity government.

Yeoh Guan Jin, FMT

The Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election on May 11 is yet another test of the resilience of the partnership between Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN).

Of the eight that have been held since the formation of the unity government on Dec 3, 2022, four were for seats in the Dewan Rakyat and four for state assemblies.

The Kuala Kubu Baharu fight will be the fifth for a state seat and ninth overall.

The respective parties retained their seats in the four state by-elections.

Umno got Tioman and Pelangai back for BN, Amanah retook Simpang Jeram for PH and in Sarawak Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu kept Jepak for Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

But at the federal level, Perikatan Nasional (PN) is already one up against PH. The Padang Serai seat, originally held by PH was lost to PN.

This was one of the two by-elections that were held on Dec 7, 2022, the first since the 15th general elections. The other was for the Tioman state seat that Umno retained.

Of the remaining three by-elections for federal seats, PN won two — Kemaman and Kuala Terengganu — through PAS. Again, these were PAS strongholds anyway, so it came as no surprise.

Meanwhile, PH managed to retain the Pulai seat, which was left vacant by the death of Salahuddin Ayub of Amanah.

PH may be one down but it’s not the end of the world.

In any case, PN very likely rode the swing in favour of Malay-centric parties during the general elections held less than a month before to snatch the seat from PH.

It must also be noted that polling for the seat did not take place on election day because the incumbent, Karupaiya Mutusami, who was seeking re-election, died after nomination day.

Looking back, the wave could have swept the seat PN’s way anyway.

Whether or not DAP’s Pang Sock Tao retains Kuala Kubu Baharu for PH-BN does not make a lot of difference in the Selangor state assembly. A loss on May 11 will not topple the state government.

But it will have a major impact on morale at a time when confidence in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ability to steer the ship in the right direction is severely being tested.

Economists and analysts may continue to spout numbers and present arguments to back their claims that it is all hunky-dory but on the ground, people are still feeling the pain of rising prices as well as increasing racial and religious intolerance.

The refusal of MCA to be a part of the PH-BN campaign has become a spanner in the works.

Given that Chinese make up 30% of the electorate, its constant needling at the DAP may turn out to be costly for PH.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine the two parties, one Chinese-centric and the other all Chinese, getting chummy.

On the campaign trail, a PAS leader laid a trap for Pang by questioning her educational qualifications and she walked right into it by displaying her SPM certificate to show that she was a straight A’s student.

Now the Islamist party is harping on the fact that she was educated in a Chinese vernacular school, thereby casting doubts on her ability to understand Malay and issues surrounding the community.

At 46%, Malays make up the largest racial group in the Kuala Kubu Baharu electorate, and their support is essential.

The Indian factor should not be ignored either. The community accounts for 18% of the electorate, possibly making them kingmaker in the contest.

Claims that certain groups have been going house-to-house to get Indian voters to boycott the by-election and a call by former Penang deputy chief minister P Ramasamy for them to snub PH do not bode well for Pang.

While Anwar and government spokesman Fahmi Fadzil have said that they have MIC’s assurance that it is prepared to help, the party has yet to officially make its stand known.

Of the four candidates vying for the seat, the pressure on Pang must be the greatest.

On paper, Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s Hafizah Zainudin and independent candidate Nyau Ke Xin are unlikely to make waves.

PN candidate Khairul Azhari Saut is a strong contender and if he wins, it will be a big deal for the Malay-centric coalition.

But even if he fails to wrest the seat from PH-BN, it is not so bad. After all, the seat was not PN’s in the first place.

But Pang already has a fight on her hands.

While a victory for her may not recoup all the goodwill that PH-BN has lost in the past 16 months, defeat will make it even harder to get voters to continue to put their faith in the partnership.

There is more than a week to go before the votes are cast.

The fight may still go either way. It is now up to Pang to make sure it goes her way.