News analysis

Gloomy outlook for PH in crucial Johor polls after poor recent performances

Pundits said that Pakatan Harapan's chances look slim at the Johor elections due by next month. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's former ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is likely to face an uphill task in the crucial Johor legislative elections, after its successive poor performances in Melaka and Sarawak polls last year.

This in turn could intensify the scrutiny on PH leader Anwar Ibrahim's leadership of the coalition.

Pundits said that PH's chances look slim at the Johor elections due by next month.

A lack of unity among coalition parties in the use of logo, coupled with an anticipated low voter turnout, could work against PH at a time when it is in need of a good electoral showing.

It won only five out of 28 seats during the Melaka polls in November and only two out of 82 seats at the Sarawak elections in December.

In both elections, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) led by Datuk Seri Anwar lost all of the seats it had contested.

The other components of PH are Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Amanah Negara and Sabah-based United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation.

PKR has controversially decided to use its own party logo instead of the coalition's common logo during the Johor elections, with DAP and Amanah opting to contest under the PH banner.

"PH is in big trouble in Johor. With PKR using its own logo, the perception is that PH is not really a coalition. You can't go to an election and say that you are the opposition leader when your own party does not even use the coalition logo," said Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

Low voter turnout is also likely to further affect PH's chances, as both the Melaka and Sarawak election saw record-low turnouts of 65 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, lower than the Election Commission target in both instances.

A higher voter turnout - normally a result of urban or outstation voters returning home to vote - usually works in favour of PH, which has enjoyed greater support in urban areas.

A loss in Johor, however, would not immediately mean the end of Mr Anwar's leadership of PH due to the lack of alternative leaders, analysts said.

"Anwar and his dwindling number of ardent supporters would still come out with a thousand and one excuses for him to stay on as PH leader, no matter how untenable the position becomes," said Singapore Institute for International Affairs senior fellow  Oh Ei Sun.

Prof Chin said that Mr Anwar seems to have "lost his political antenna", as every major decision that the former deputy premier had taken following the collapse of the PH administration in 2020 has been "proven to be wrong".

Mr Anwar has attempted to become prime minister three times since the collapse of the PH administration but without any success.

The Melaka election last year was the first time he had led PH to election as its main leader, after former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad left the coalition following the change of government in 2020.

The opposition field is also becoming increasingly crowded, with two other opposition parties, headed by leaders who were formerly PH partners, expressing their intention to contest the Johor polls.

Both Parti Warisan Sabah, led by former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal, and Tun Dr Mahathir's Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, might join the fray in Johor - making their electoral debuts in the southern state.

A higher voter turnout - normally a result of urban or outstation voters returning home to vote - usually works in favour of PH, which has enjoyed greater support in urban areas. PHOTO: BERNAMA

The Johor polls also mark the first time individuals aged 18 to 20 can vote in a Malaysian election, after a historic legislation to lower the voting age, which was passed in 2019, finally came into effect in time for the upcoming election.

PH is currently negotiating with youth-based party Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) to cooperate during the polls, which will also mark Muda's electoral debut. It is led by former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

But analysts said the jury is still out on the impact that the new voting age will have during the Johor polls.

"Muda is yet to be tested as to their real electoral appeal to young voters," Dr Oh said.

In addition, only 175,000 voters are aged 18 to 20, about 7 per cent of the 2.6 million eligible voters in Johor.

The Johor election was triggered by the Umno-led state administration following the death of Kempas assemblyman Osman Sapian in December.

His death left the administration, which consists of parties from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalitions, with a majority of only one seat. It has 28 seats while PH has 27.

BN and PN will contest each other in Johor, but a similar battle in Melaka did not work in favour of PH.

PN is led by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which was a former party in PH.

In 2018, PH - which included Bersatu at the time - won the Johor legislative assembly for the first time, gaining 36 out of 56 seats. It subsequently lost the administration due to defections in 2020.

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