Voting opens for by-election that puts Malaysia's ruling Perikatan Nasional to its first test

PM Muhyiddin Yassin cobbled together Perikatan Nasional in March after the sudden collapse of the previous administration. PHOTO: AFP/MALAYSIA'S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/NAZRI RAPAAI

PEKAN - Polling stations have opened as voters in the rural state constituency of Chini in Pahang cast their vote in a by-election that could put to test the mandate of Perikatan Nasional (PN), a loose alliance Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin cobbled together in March after the sudden collapse of the previous Pakatan Harapan administration.

The Chini by-election - the 11th since the 2018 General Election but the first for the PN government - was called after the incumbent assemblyman Abu Bakar Harun died on May 6.

Barisan Nasional's Mr Mohd Sharim Md Zain, 41 is contesting the seat along with two independent candidates, businessman Tengku Datuk Zainul Hisham Tengku Hussin, 64, and blogger Mohd Shukri Mohd Ramli, 49.

In the 14th general election in 2018, Mr Abu Bakar had retained Chini with a majority of 4,622 votes, by securing 10,027 votes against his opponents from PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, whose candidate at that time, Mr Mohamad Razali Ithnain, had secured only 1,065 votes.

This time, PAS and BN's other ally within PN, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, have thrown their weight behind Mr Mohd Sharim.

The competition isn't exactly a high-stakes one as Chini - one of the four state seats which falls under former prime minister Najib Razak's Pekan parliamentary constituency - has traditionally been a safe seat for BN.

Opposition Pakatan Harapan has opted out of the election ostensibly due to the health risks posed by the coronavirus.

The Chini by-election can be regarded as the one of the quietest elections, Bernama news agency reported.

Since nomination day on June 20, no rally or assembly have been held due to coronavirus restrictions and the number of attendees at Ceramahs or political talks was capped at 250.

The Election Commission had advised voters to adhere to strict measures such as the wearing of face masks and showing up at polling booths only at the proposed time stated on their voter's card.

Umno deputy president Mohamad Hassan had said that the Chini by-election results would serve as a benchmark for PN in the next general election.

"We want a number that can serve as a reference," he said, as quoted by The Star newspaper on Thursday (July 2).

A total of 20,816 people are eligible to vote in Chini before polling stations close at 5.30pm.

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