Malaysia GE2022: States to Watch

Barisan Nasional set for strong showing in Johor as opposition aims for swing seats

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (right) and Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi in Ayer Hitam, Johor, on Nov 9, 2022. PHOTO: BERNAMA
Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin, 75, lifting the arm of a Perikatan Nasional supporter, former fruit farmer Loh Sun Chee, 45, who was seen wearing a T-shirt with the image of Mr Muhyiddin, who is contesting Pagoh against candidates from Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin, 75, at an estate in Bukit Pasir. Mr Muhyiddin, who is wooing the minority vote, said last Saturday that the Chinese can be guaranteed that they would be able to earn a living and prosper under Perikatan Nasional's leadership. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin being greeted by well-wishers at a mosque in Bukit Pasir last Saturday. Tan Sri Muhyddin will be contesting Pagoh in Johor against Barisan Nasional's Razali Ibrahim and Pakatan Harapan's Iskandar Shah Abdul Rahman. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Democratic Action Party Liew Chin Tong, flanked by Muda’s deputy president Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz and Mr Jimmy Puah from Parti Keadilan Rakyat at a rally in Ulu Tiram on Sunday. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin, 75, speaking at a gathering of Perikatan Nasional supporters in Sungai Raya, Johor, last Saturday. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Mr Liew Chin Tong of the Democratic Action Party having his photo taken with a supporter at a rally in Ulu Tiram, Johor, on Sunday. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Johor state Democratic Action Party opposition leader Liew Chin Tong at a rally in Ulu Tiram on Sunday. He told The Straits Times that the opposition parties require a large voter turnout to counter Barisan Nasional's loyal voter base in Johor's rural districts. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Johor state Democratic Action Party opposition leader Liew Chin Tong at a rally in Ulu Tiram on Sunday. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

PAGOH, Johor - Barisan Nasional (BN), which posted a landslide win in the recent Johor state assembly elections, hopes to repeat that performance in Malaysia’s upcoming general election.

The Umno-led BN aims to regain a majority share of the 26 parliamentary wards in the state after opposition Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) overwhelming victory there in the 2018 General Election, when it swept 18 seats.

On Nomination Day last Saturday, BN candidate Razali Ibrahim, who is in a three-way fight in Pagoh with Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Muhyiddin Yassin and PH’s Iskandar Shah Abdul Rahman, was confident BN’s promise of prosperity has gained ground with voters. This is despite Pagoh being a stronghold of former prime minister Muhyiddin, who first won the parliamentary seat in 1978.

“Johor has some success stories, even after only seven months of getting the mandate (in Johor state assembly elections),” said Datuk Seri Razali. “I believe if we continue this, Johor will move forward.”

At BN’s Muar headquarters on Monday, Johor Chief Minister Onn Hafiz Ghazi told party supporters that BN has been given a second chance with its victory at the state assembly elections in March, when it won 40 out of 56 seats.

“The recent value of investments for Johor was RM60.9 million (S$18.1 million), the highest in the country,” he said. “But what we have achieved is not enough.”

There are plans to widen highways and increase tourism in Johor, he said.

But BN’s success in Johor may not prove as overwhelming as hoped, Dr Serina Rahman, a lecturer in the Department of South-east Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, told The Straits Times.

“The broad expectation is that BN will succeed in Johor and regain some of its losses,” said Dr Serina. “The state election was not as much of a landslide (win) as claimed because it was the result of low voter turnout.”

Only 54 per cent of voters turned out for the Johor state election in March, with BN winning 43 per cent of the votes cast.

While BN enjoys strong support in Johor’s rural areas, it needs to boost resources in the swing seats that it lost in the 2018 election. These swing seats are semi-urban, multiracial wards like Muar, Pagoh and Pulai, said Johor’s Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader Liew Chin Tong. DAP is part of the PH pact.

“I think these seats will be determined by voter turnout. If there’s a high turnout, higher chance for PH to win. If the turnout is below 50 per cent, then it is a ‘gone case’ (for PH),” Mr Liew told ST at a rally in Ulu Tiram on Sunday.

He explained that BN has a fixed pool of hardcore voters that opposition coalitions like PH do not. “We depend on swing voters and voters who are inspired,” he said. “If they’re not inspired, they’re not interested.” 

Tan Sri Muhyiddin, who heads Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, is also wooing the minority vote, which could affect outcomes in the swing seats. His key obstacle is convincing Chinese voters that his coalition partner Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) will not change their way of life if PN is voted in.

“If the Chinese are afraid, we (PN) will send three buses for them to Kelantan to observe how the Chinese live,” said Mr Muhyiddin, referring to the east coast state governed by PAS.

“I can guarantee the Chinese there can survive, the Chinese can earn a living and do business, and the biggest statue of Buddha in Malaysia is in Kelantan,” he said on his visit to Bukit Pasir town in Muar.

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Bread-and-butter issues, however, are top of mind for most voters.

First-time voter Nuraina Ashiqin Zanrizal, 18, who is studying transportation management, said she worries about paying her utility bills, student loan instalments and transport costs to campus. “I earn about RM148 for 10 days’ work,” said the part-time barista. “It isn’t much, but I hope the authorities can extend (the repayment of) my student loan without penalty.”

She admitted not knowing who to vote for in Senai district, where she lives. “I’m new to politics and I will most probably vote for the same party my parents vote for.”

For Ms Lynette Er, director of three food and beverage establishments in Malaysia, what is needed is a stable government.

She told ST at her eatery in Muar: “It is difficult for businesses to operate when governments change frequently. Every time a new party is in power, we too make changes that affect our employees in order to adapt to new employment policies.”

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