PEKAN NANAS, Johor – On a humid, overcast day on Sunday, Malaysian opposition candidate Lim Wei Jiet went “fishing” for support.
With less than a week to go to Polling Day on Nov 19 in Malaysia’s 15th General Election, the co-founder of Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) went to each of the 100 participants at a fishing competition in Pekan Nanas, a Malay-majority rural area, to introduce himself as a candidate for Tanjung Piai.
Casting his net wide also requires Mr Lim to encourage Malaysians living overseas to return home to vote.
Mr Lim, who is facing a three-cornered fight, said the opposition relies on larger masses making the trip back to their home towns to vote to counter Barisan Nasional’s (BN) pool of hardcore voters in Johor.
“We are trying to reach out via social media (and the press) to get Malaysians in Singapore invested enough in this election to come out to vote,” Mr Lim, a 31-year-old lawyer, said.
According to estimates in June by the Malaysian Employers Federation, 900,000 Malaysians work in Singapore, with about 300,000 commuting each day. The Malay Mail reported on Nov 8 that there are 1.86 million Malaysians living overseas.
Muda has formed an electoral pact with the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition for the upcoming election.
In GE14 in 2018, PH achieved a simple majority in Parliament to form the next federal government. Comprising DAP, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara, PH won 113 seats against BN’s 79. But the coalition collapsed in 2020 when 11 MPs from PKR declared their departure from the party and PH.
Mr Shazwan Zdainal Abidin, a DAP candidate for Pontian, said that on his visits to homes there, he tells parents to encourage their children to return to vote.
“As you know, 46 per cent (of Pontian residents) are from the 15-to-40 age group,” said Mr Shazwan, 38. “But if you look around, you don’t see young people here because many have left for Johor Bahru and Singapore (for better employment opportunities).”
Like Mr Lim, he is counting on the roughly 6.2 million new voters – from the ages of 18 to 21 – who have been added to the electoral rolls, raising the number of voters to over 21 million this election.
But it may not be as easy as hopping on a bus home for some Malaysians, said Mr Lim. “The cost of transportation is one (concern),” he added. “But the more worrying aspect is voter apathy. Some may not feel invested enough or may have given up.”
Kuala Lumpur-based Joanna Leseh will not be returning to Sabah to vote. The 34-year-old fitness instructor said: “I thought about going back but the air ticket was just too expensive. It is not easy with the Covid-19 pandemic since the cost of living has risen.”
She noted that a return AirAsia ticket costs about RM600 (S$176), while the fare for Malaysia Airlines is higher.
Ms Leseh added that voting via registered post is an option only for Malaysians living abroad – like Mr Muhammad Syahir Abdul Jamil.
Mr Syahir, 33, an operations coordinator for a logistics company in Singapore, said he would be voting in his home state of Negeri Sembilan but is unable to return home due to work and his daughter’s kindergarten graduation.
“Since we have the convenience of postal voting, this helps Malaysians abroad to still vote and be responsible citizens,” he added.
An employee of a petrol station in Choa Chu Kang said he will not be joining his friends, all Ipoh natives working in Singapore, on their ride home.
The 31-year-old, who gave his name only as Mr Pal, said: “The 560km journey home to Perak on my small motorcycle will be tiring and a hassle. Besides, I couldn’t get a few days’ leave from my employer.”
In Malaysia, media reports indicated that demand for internal travel has skyrocketed and tickets are sold out in some cases. But there are free bus services, jointly organised by non-governmental organisations Sayangi Kinrara, KLSCAH CRC and SKLHA Youth, departing Puchong on Nov 18. These buses will take passengers to Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan, Alor Setar, Kota Bharu and some parts of Johor such as Yong Peng, Johor Bahru and Batu Pahat.
On BusOnlineTicket.com, where tickets for travel between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are available, seats appeared to be only three-quarters booked after Nov 16. Prices range between $30 and $48.
Giving the big picture, Johor’s DAP leader Liew Chin Tong said PH’s strategy focuses on swing seats and younger voters. These parliamentary seats are semi-urban, multiracial constituencies with a Malay majority.
At the last general election in 2018, PH won 18 out of 26 parliamentary seats in Johor, from only five in 2013. However, in the March 2022 state assembly elections, BN won 40 out of 56 seats.
“The younger voters have no (party) allegiance,” said Mr Liew. “So if we can convince them that this is the most important general election they need to vote in, the chances are that those who come out to vote, will vote for us.”