Selangor by-election: Ballot a litmus test for PH and Umno

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (second from right) and Umno candidate Lokman Adam (right) meeting a resident of Sungai Kandis on July 25 while on the stump in the Selangor by-election. Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mu
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (second from right) and Umno candidate Lokman Adam (right) meeting a resident of Sungai Kandis on July 25 while on the stump in the Selangor by-election. PHOTOS: BERNAMA
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (second from right) and Umno candidate Lokman Adam (right) meeting a resident of Sungai Kandis on July 25 while on the stump in the Selangor by-election. Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mu
Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni (left), principal of an Islamic school in the Sungai Kandis ward, with party de facto chief Anwar Ibrahim (second from left) on the campaign trail on July 31.PHOTOS: BERNAMA

Contest for state seat may yield clues on current leaning of Malay voters

The by-election campaign in a Selangor state seat - the first since the May 9 general election - wound down yesterday evening, in a closely watched battle between the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling alliance and opposition party Umno.

The ballot may yield clues on whether Malay voters will firmly remain with PH member Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in the Sungai Kandis constituency, or if there will be a significant migration towards Umno.

The ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities are expected to remain mostly with PH.

A PKR candidate is defending the seat against Datuk Lokman Adam, an Umno Supreme Council member who was a senior aide to former premier Najib Razak. The third candidate is an unknown independent.

The by-election was called following the death of the state assemblyman due to lymphoma.

PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim turned up to campaign, as did Najib.

Voting centres will be open today between 8am and 5pm, with the result expected in the same evening.

 
 
 

For the four-party PH alliance, the by-election is about voter affirmation of the Mahathir administration since it won federal power in May. Malays form 72 per cent of the 51,230 registered voters.

There has been some anxiety in the Malay Muslim community in the last two months as the PH government appointed non-Malays as the de facto law minister, chief judge and Attorney-General, along with announcements to review the biggest Islamic agency, the Islamic Development Department Malaysia or Jakim.

The anxiety has been played up by Umno, which is keen to regain lost votes among the Malays that led to its toppling in May.

"One day after he was nominated, Lokman was making a lot of fuss about how he will champion Islam and fight for the Muslims, but in a way that can easily incite fear and panic," said Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari.

Umno is also receiving support from former political nemesis Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in the PH-Umno battle. The Islamist party, which contested Sungai Kandis in May, is sitting out.

And yesterday, Umno and PAS said they have come to an "understanding" that only PAS will contest another by-election in Selangor, for the state seat of Seri Setia, following the death of its assemblyman on Thursday.

"This is also the starting point and understanding between both parties for a new political movement in this 'New Malaysia'," Umno's deputy president Mohamad Hasan told reporters.

Umno and PAS have clearly shown that their main line of attack is playing up anxieties over Malay and Islamic rights.

But in Sungai Kandis, this tactic might not quite work, according to a study by Selangor think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan. It found that of those polled, 35 per cent of the voters want a "local" person from the ward as their lawmaker and 13 per cent want a religious figure.

"A representative with a local background is seen as one who will better meet the needs of the voters who want a local voice representing them in solving issues raised," the think-tank said.

PKR is fielding Mr Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni, the principal of an Islamic school in the ward.

On the other hand, Mr Lokman is not from Sungai Kandis. He was the Finance Ministry's communications director when Najib was finance minister.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2018, with the headline 'Selangor by-election Ballot a litmus test for PH and Umno'. Print Edition | Subscribe