KUALA LUMPUR - Barisan Nasional (BN) announced on Wednesday night (Oct 30) that Malaysian Chinese Association’s (MCA) former MP of Tanjung Piai will seek to regain his seat at next month’s by-election there.
This reinforces the Umno-led coalition’s messaging that a “Muslim Unity” pact with former rival Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) will not unravel its decades-old power-sharing model among Malaysia’s ethnic groups.
BN Johor chief Hasni Mohammad revealed that MCA Tanjung Piai division chief Wee Jeck Seng will be nominated this Saturday despite local Umno members demanding the seat be handed to them.
"Tanjung Piai has been allocated to MCA. This practice continued until 2018. The BN leadership has unanimously decided... to maintain MCA in this seat. This proves the national consensus between PAS and Umno is inclusive, big-hearted and pragmatic. It is not just focused on Malay Muslims but all communities," he said.
The two-term MP for the district lost out by a narrow 524-vote margin from about 46,000 ballots cast last year.
But the victor, Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, from the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance died on Sept 21, triggering the by-election.
Datuk Seri Wee will now face Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) Tanjung Piai division chief Karmaine Sardini and Ms Wendy Subramaniam, deputy secretary general of former BN ally Gerakan in the hotly contested by-election on Nov 16.
“We are on track to win more Malay support, so this will help us secure Chinese voters who are disappointed in PH,” a top Johor BN leader told The Straits Times ahead of the Datuk Hasni’s announcement.
How the marriage of Malaysia’s two largest Malay parties develops is being closely watched by other opposition parties, most crucially the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition that controls Sarawak.
Made up of former BN parties, GPS could be kingmakers in the event of a hung Parliament.
While this situation could arise after the next election due in 2023, internal jostling over who will succeed Tun Mahathir could also result in leadership candidates reaching out to Sarawak MPs.
After inking an official pact with PAS last month to address the alleged erosion of Malay rights, Umno strategists expect a windfall of votes from the community who form the majority in 119 out of 222 parliamentary wards.
If voting patterns from last year’s general election are maintained, BN and PAS’ combined tally would take about 100 of these seats, needing a dozen or so more to secure parliamentary majority.
Umno is banking on GPS, which currently has 19 MPs, to return to the fold, although its leader and Sarawak Chief Minister, Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg, was roundly criticised for hosting PAS president Hadi Awang last month, as politicians and the general public in the state shun the policies espoused by the Islamist party.
After the May 2018 election, GPS parties quickly abandoned BN.
The Straits Times understands that this prompted Tun Dr Mahathir to approach them to join PH and shore up support for his fledgling alliance but Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari declined, citing bad blood with PH component Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing told ST last week that they are adopting a wait-and-see approach to how the Umno-PAS alliance “treats other races and whether PH can deliver”.
“If they allow MCA to contest Tanjung Piai, it will be a good signal to us that they will honour our traditional arrangements,” he said.
BN is also running an MCA candidate to capitalise on recent disenchantment among Chinese voters with the Mahathir administration over policies such as introducing Arabic calligraphy in school, refusing to deport controversial Indian-born Muslim preacher Zakir Naik over racially incendiary statements, and the premier’s attendance at the Malay Dignity Congress on Oct 6.
The rally was attended by Malay leaders across the political divide who witnessed resolutions demanding Malay quotas and privileges across all aspects of life and the exclusion of other races from top government positions.