CYBERJAYA - A 43-year old deputy minister with the Prime Minister's Department from Johor died on Saturday (Sept 21), setting the stage for a by-election pitting Malaysia's governing coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the new Umno-PAS alliance.
MP Md Farid Md Rafik, who worked closely with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad , was reported by Malaysian media to have died of a heart attack.
Datuk Dr Farid, a medical doctor by profession, won Johor's Tanjung Piai seat with just 524 votes in a three-way contest in the May 2018 General Election, in a three-way fight against a candidate from Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
With the recent formal agreement by BN and PAS to work closely together, PH could expect a stiff fight for the seat in a by-election expected to be called within weeks.
BN has won all three by-elections this year, feeding the perception of an erosion of support among Malays and other voters just over a year into the PH administration.
The by-election would see the first formal coopetation between Umno/BN and PAS in an electoral contest, with the Tanjung Piai seat traditionally contested by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a BN member.
Tun Dr Mahathir on Saturday cut short a programme with 20,000 members of cooperative in Cyberjaya to rush to Johor to attend Dr Farid's funeral, The Star online news reported.
A Mahathir aide said Dr Mahathir performed Friday prayers a day earlier in Kuala Lumpur with Dr Farid, who was Deputy Minister of Unity and Social Harmony.
Dr Farid died at 5.30am in a hospital on Saturday in Johor's Pontian town.
The Tanjung Piai constituency was a stronghold of BN member MCA, but was wrested by Dr Farid, who represented Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Dr Farid polled 21,255 votes against 20,731 garnered by Wee Jeck Seng from MCA.
The third contestant, PAS candidate Nordin Othman, received 2,962 votes - meaning the MCA and PAS votes combined were higher than Dr Farid's total.
Johor was a stronghold state for Umno, MCA and BN, until it was lost to PH in the 2018 polls.