Even small uptick in Umno support is a big deal, says analyst

Azmi Hassan said the marginal increase in Malay support for PH was ‘significant’ given the unity government’s challenges.

(FMT) – Considering the challenges that Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the unity government faced in the run-up to the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election, even a small uptick in Malay support was significant, an analyst said.

Azmi Hassan of Akademi Nusantara recalled that before the May 11 poll, concerns were raised about the relationship between the PH candidate Pang Sock Tao and her former boss Nga Kor Ming.

Pang previously served as press secretary to Nga, who is the housing and local government minister.

Nga had stirred controversy earlier in the year over his proposal to make Chinese new villages a Unesco heritage site.

Over and above that Malay voters, especially Umno supporters, had reportedly become disillusioned with the party’s cooperation with former nemesis PH in general and its component DAP in particular, Azmi told FMT.

Despite these challenges, he estimated that there was a 3% to 5% increase in Malay support for PH in the constituency compared with last year’s Selangor state election and the general election in 2022.

Meanwhile, think tank Institut Darul Ehsan estimated that there was a 3% increase in Malay support for the unity government.

“In this context, the increase is significant. The confidence that the Malay electorate has (in the unity government) is down to (their continued trust in) Umno,” Azmi said.

He said that even more significant is the fact that Malay support for Umno had already dwindled in the last general election and the six state elections last year.

The fact that Pang was able to beat a Malay candidate was also noteworthy, he added.

Pang polled 14,000 votes to beat Perikatan Nasional’s Khairul Azhari Saut (10,131 votes), Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s Hafizah Zainuddin (152) and independent candidate Nyau Ke Xin (188).

Kuala Kubu Baharu has a racially mixed electorate, with Malay and non-Malay voters evenly split.

“Ethnicity plays an important role in Malaysia’s political landscape,” Azmi pointed out.

On Sunday, Umno secretary-general Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki revealed that PH captured six of the eight Malay-majority electoral districts in Kuala Kubu Baharu which PN won in last year’s state election.

Asyraf said the swing in Malay support in favour of PH proved that playing up racial and religious sentiments will no longer guarantee votes from the Malays.

Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said Umno had helped PH secure increased Malay support through a more coordinated election machinery compared with previous by-elections.

“Based on my observation, the Umno machinery in Kuala Kubu Baharu was very effective, especially Wanita Umno, whose members worked very diligently to gather votes,” he said.

Syaza Shukri of the International Islamic University Malaysia, who shared similar sentiments, believes Umno’s efforts in explaining its relationship with PH in the unity government also helped to secure the votes of its supporters for Pang.

“The unity government should now double its efforts to interact with the Malay community to maintain the upward momentum of Malay support,” she told FMT.

“Continue going to the ground and engaging in dialogue with the Malay people, because they want their concerns to be heard,” she added.