BN fielding new faces to boost chances

Majority of candidates for state seats are newbies; veterans still prevalent at parliamentary level

Malaysia's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) is fielding more fresh faces for state seats in the May 9 election, in an effort to reinvigorate voter support.

Candidate lists for state assemblies unveiled in the last few days by BN state chiefs contained a majority of newbies, a sign that the 13-party coalition led by Umno is not relying solely on party veterans for victory.

"Combining those who are experienced with the young and energetic will inject a breath of fresh air and ensure BN Kelantan remains relevant," said BN Kelantan chief Mustapa Mohamed yesterday.

The north-eastern state has been held by the federal opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) since 1990. The upcoming polls will see BN attempt to regain it with 28 new candidates fielded for the 45 state assembly seats, a marked increase from the 25 new faces it fielded in 2013 for both state and parliamentary seats at the last polls in 2013.

BN currently holds 12 state seats in Kelantan, against PAS' 31. Opposition parties Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Amanah Negara hold one seat each.

But it is not just about winning back votes. Down south in Johor, where BN's grip has been solid, Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin announced the coalition is fielding 32 new faces for state assembly seats. That is over half of the 56 available seats, of which BN controls 37.

"BN in Johor is worried about the opposition as they have underestimated the appetite of Chinese voters, and Bersatu and Muhyiddin making significant inroads into the rural Malay seats," said BowerGroupAsia analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani. Bersatu is former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which was founded with former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

In Selangor, a state led by federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan, BN is presenting 57 candidates running for the first time, in both state and parliamentary wards. Many are young professionals it hopes can reach out to the urbane crowd in Malaysia's richest state.

"We have to pick the cream of the crop to ensure BN's success in GE14," said BN Selangor chief Noh Omar yesterday.

The smaller states of Melaka and Negeri Sembilan are seeing a similar strategy.

"BN is probably hoping to attract the fence sitters and youth voters who may be put off by the poor performance of incumbents," said public policy analyst Lim Teck Ghee.

Old faces are still prevalent at the parliamentary level, notably Datuk Seri Mustapa, Datuk Seri Khaled - who are both also contesting state seats - and Tan Sri Noh. Other veterans contesting include 81-year-old Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, who has represented Gua Musang, Kelantan, for 44 years, and former Melaka chief minister Ali Rustam.

However, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is BN chairman, has axed several known party warlords. These include former deputy minister Puad Zarkashi and former menteri besar Mohd Ghani Othman in Johor, and former Felda chairman Isa Samad in Negeri Sembilan. Deputy Communications Minister Jailani Johari was also left out as a candidate for BN Terengganu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2018, with the headline 'BN fielding new faces to boost chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe