KUALA LUMPUR - 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.
Candidates' lists for state assemblies unveiled in the last few days by BN state chiefs contained a majority of newbies, a sign the 13-party coalition led by Umno is not relying solely on its 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 on Monday (April 23).
The north-eastern state of Kelantan has been held by the federal opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) since 1990. This 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 in the last polls in 2013.
BN currently holds 12 state seats in Kelantan, against PAS's 31. Opposition parties Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Amanah Negara hold one seat each.
But it's 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's more than half of the 56 seats available in the state assembly, 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's 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 the federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH), BN is presenting a total of 57 fresh candidates running for the very first time, in both state and parliamentary wards.
Many of these are young professionals it hopes can reach out to the urban 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 on Monday.
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 however are still prevalent at parliamentary level, notably Datuk Seri Mustapa, Datuk Seri Khaled - who are both also contesting state seats - Tan Sri Noh and 81-year-old Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah who has represented Gua Musang, Kelantan, for 44 years.
However, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also BN chairman, has axed several known party warlords this election. 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, despite being an incumbent MP.