JOHOR BARU - Malaysia’s longest-ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) won the Johor state election on Saturday (March 12) with a super-majority, posting a stunning comeback that could spur it to press for an early general election.
BN, which is led by Malaysia’s largest party Umno, won 40 seats in the 56-seat assembly after just over half of Johor’s eligible voters cast their ballots, giving it a two-thirds majority in the state legislative assembly.
Incumbent Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad, who is expected to be sworn in again as chief minister, thanked the voters for their mandate, and said they had chosen stability.
“I urge all voters, whether those who voted BN or otherwise, to be together with me for the future of Johor,” he said on Saturday night.
Most of the remaining seats were scooped up by opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), with 10 of the 12 seats it won captured by the Democratic Action Party.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) won only one seat, repeating its lacklustre performance at the recent Melaka and Sarawak state elections and putting into question his leadership of the PH coalition.
The Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact also fared poorly, winning just three seats despite being helmed by former prime minister and Johor stalwart Muhyiddin Yassin.
Tan Sri Muhyddin accepted responsibility for the defeat. “I am ready to resign at any time if the party decides that I should go,” he said at a media conference on Saturday night.
BN’s landslide win, says BowerGroup Asia director Adib Zalkapli, was partly due to a crowded opposition field.
In addition to PH’s component parties, at least another four opposition parties made their electoral debuts in Johor.
Youth-based Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), despite working together with PH, contested against Datuk Seri Anwar’s PKR in one of the wards.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pejuang Tanah Air ran in 42 seats, splitting the opposition vote with PH parties in all of them. And Parti Warisan, led by former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal, contested six seats.
All these new opposition parties returned empty-handed, save for Muda which won one seat that PH had agreed not to contest in.
Umno’s thumping win in its birthplace comes on the back of BN scoring a two-thirds majority in the Melaka elections in November last year.
Leading the charge for the victorious Johor campaign was former prime minister Najib Razak, whose role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal had contributed to BN’s unprecedented defeat by PH at the 2018 general election. He is currently appealing a graft conviction linked to the state fund.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi credited Najib as the “campaign manager” for the Johor polls despite not having an official party position, and declared the win as a “gift” for the former premier.
With this revival of fortunes, Umno leaders aligned to Najib are likely to pressure party colleague and prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to dissolve Parliament and call for an election as early as the second half of this year.
As BN’s win became apparent on Saturday night, supporters started chanting “Bubar Parlimen” (Dissolve Parliament) at Datuk Seri Ismail, who was watching the election results at Umno headquarters in Johor Baru.
The next general election is not due until mid-2023, but the current government formed of BN and PN only has a four-seat majority in Parliament.
Some Umno leaders believe an early election would garner a stronger mandate for the party and make it less reliant on support from PN, with whom it shares frosty ties.
“It’s a royal flush for Umno, it can now confidently push for an early General Election,” Mr Adib said.
He added that PH now needs to start afresh on its campaign strategies, after its weak showing in Johor. The coalition can no longer afford to be “nostalgic” about its historic win at the 2018 election, he said.