PH has work cut out to woo Sungai Bakap Malays

A PKR source says a low voter turnout may work in PN’s favour as the ruling coalition struggles to penetrate the Malay heartlands.

(FMT) – After more than a week of campaigning in Sungai Bakap, Pakatan Harapan appears to still have its work cut out to win over the constituency’s Malay voters, 77% of whom gave Perikatan Nasional their backing in the last state polls.

Despite high-profile campaigning by many federal ministers as well as Selangor menteri besar Amirudin Shari over the weekend, the majority of Malay voters who voted for PN during the state elections last year appear unconvinced.

One major gripe among the opposition’s supporters is that while PH’s candidate Joohari Ariffin was an academic luminary, he was “not politician enough” compared to Abidin Ismail of PAS.

A Sungai Duri villager who claimed he met Joohari on the campaign trail said the PKR man had an air of superiority to him, with a condescending “strict teacher” persona.

PAS diehards say Abidin is a more familiar and welcoming face. “We have seen him with the late assemblyman and we feel he is okay,” Siti Anisa, a 26-year-old lekor seller, told FMT.

PH, especially PKR’s election machinery, will be hoping to turn this sentiment around in the next few days, to prevent a repeat of last year’s polls which saw the party lose the state seat after three terms.

A source in PKR said PH is confident of winning the Puteri Gunung polling district, the largest mixed-race district in the constituency, but has found it hard to penetrate Sungai Kechil, Tasek Junjong and Abidin’s hometown, Sungai Duri.

The other four districts — Padang Lalang, Sungai Bakap, Ladang Sempah and Kampung Besar — remain a toss-up, the grassroots leader said.

“If voter turnout is high, there’s a good chance of PH winning. A low turnout will see PN win. We expect the same 40% of youths between the ages of 18 to 30, most of whom voted for PN last year, to come out to vote.

“But our concern is whether those above 30 would turn out to vote at all,” said the party worker with access to past voting patterns. “We are on overdrive, doing a lot of work to win votes. This final week we will be going all out.”

Based on data from the 2023 polls, Sungai Bakap comprises 59.36% Malay voters, 22.54% Chinese, 17.39% Indian, and 0.71% from other ethnicities.

The data also shows that 7.9% of Sg Bakap voters are between the ages of 18 and 20, while those between 21 and 39 make up 45% of the electorate.

PKR first wrested Sungai Bakap from Barisan Nasional in the 2008 general election and retained it for another two terms before losing it to PN last year.

Frustrations aplenty among locals

Meanwhile, Sungai Bakap locals have had no shortage of issues to raise with their prospective assemblymen, from the implementation of targeted diesel subsidies, to traffic jams and water tariff increases.

Lim, a garbage truck driver in his late 70s, was visibly frustrated when asked about his expectations for the July 6 by-election. He was particularly unhappy with the diesel subsidy mechanism, which he said was difficult for someone like him to understand.

Wanting to only be known by his surname, Lim said he uses two lorries to transport construction waste to Pulau Burung, Penang’s largest municipal landfill. However, only one of his lorries qualifies for the diesel subsidy, as the other is not registered under a company.

“How can people like me understand? Why can’t the government make it simple for us? I hope the government can help us not-so-literate people to understand this better,” he said.

Lim’s predicament resonates with many of Sungai Bakap’s largely blue-collar residents. The targeted diesel subsidies have significantly impacted locals, most of whom are involved in farming or related industries and own diesel-powered vehicles.

Most of the 115 chicken farms producing poultry and eggs solely for Penang are located in Seberang Perai South, where Sungai Bakap is located, making the area a key part of the state’s food security ecosystem.

Voters are also upset over the water tariff increases, despite rebates being announced. Many residents feel the higher costs are burdensome, especially when coupled with existing economic pressures.

“The water tariff hike is just another blow to our already tight budgets,” one local farmer said.

While the DAP-led state government has effectively resolved the water supply issues, a neighbourhood task force on water woes said recent improvements were mere band-aid fixes, with long-term solutions yet to come.

Voters in Sungai Bakap go to the polls on Saturday to elect a new state assemblyman for their constituency following the death of incumbent Nur Zamri Latiff (PAS) on May 24, aged 55.