Melaka poll a test for Anwar and a signal of Malay voter intentions

One analyst described next week's poll as a "benchmark" for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
One analyst described next week's poll as a "benchmark" for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.PHOTO: ANWAR IBRAHIM’S OFFICE

KUALA LUMPUR - The Melaka state poll on Nov 20 will be a test for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and a signal of how the majority Malay population in the country will vote in a general election, according to political observers.

"Anwar Ibrahim appears to be taking personal charge of the Melaka campaign. If the (opposition) Pakatan Harapan (PH) wins or loses this election, the onus will be upon him. His rivals will try to portray him as incapable if he loses the election," Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Straits Times.

Another analyst described next week's election as a "benchmark" for Datuk Seri Anwar.

"The Melaka polls will be the benchmark of Anwar Ibrahim's strategy for PH and determine their direction for the next general election," said socio-political analyst Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya.

If PH wins the state, as it did in the last general election in 2018 when former premier Mahathir Mohamad helmed the opposition coalition, this would bolster Mr Anwar's position as PH leader as his electoral strategy will be seen as successful.

The win will also vindicate Mr Anwar's decision to accept two former assemblymen from rival Umno into the PH fold.

The duo had withdrawn their support for the former Umno-led Melaka state government, leading to its collapse last month and paving the way for the state election.

The Umno-led Melaka government itself was formed last year after the fall of its PH predecessor due to the defections of four PH state assemblymen.

Mr Anwar's move to allow the two Umno turncoats to contest under the PH banner has been criticised by some PH supporters as well as by the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party, which together with Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat, form the main components of PH.

But Mr Anwar has defended his decision, saying that the two were not "traitors" and were helping to "return the people's mandate" to his coalition.

"If PH loses, Anwar's strategy will be seen to have failed, and this will result in criticism against him and PH for making decisions viewed by supporters as going against their anti-party-hopping policy," Dr Awang Azman told ST.

In the 2018 election, PH won Melaka with 15 seats while the Umno-led Barisan Nasional took the remaining 13 in the 28-seat state legislature.

This time round, there is concern about the possibility of a low voter turnout due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of Covid-19 cases has been rising nationwide over the past few days, breaching the 6,000 mark for the third day in a row on Friday (Nov 12).

This is likely to be a tough fight for all parties in Melaka as no rallies or house-to-house campaigning are allowed in the run-up to polling day.

The results of the state poll will also be keenly watched to gauge how the Malays, who make up 60 per cent of the country's population, will vote in the next general election which is widely expected next year.

"All the Malay parties are looking at the results of the Melaka polls carefully because they think it will signal how the Malays will vote in the next election," said Prof James Chin of the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute.

Melaka has 495,195 registered voters, more than 60 per cent of whom are Malays. A total of 112 candidates are running in the poll.