MALAYSIA – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ruling coalition claims victory in Johor’s by-elections held last Saturday (9 Sept).
Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidates secured both the Simpang Jeram state assembly seat and the Pulai parliamentary constituency.
These by-elections became necessary following the unfortunate passing of incumbent Salahuddin Ayub on 23 July.
Salahuddin had previously garnered significant support in both federal and state elections.
Remarkably, PH managed to secure both victories despite the ongoing controversy in Malaysia, stemming from a contentious court decision earlier in the week.
The court had dismissed 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who is an ally of Datuk Seri Anwar in his 10-month-old unity government within the Barisan Nasional (BN).
There were initial expectations that PH might face a challenge in the Simpang Jeram constituency after the controversial court decision.
However, PH’s candidate, Nazri Abdul Rahman, secured 13,844 votes, outpacing his rival, Dr Mohd Mazri Yahya of Perikatan Nasional (PN), who received 10,330 votes. An independent candidate, S Jeganathan, managed to garner just 311 votes in the three-way contest.
While PH was more confident of a Pulai win due to Salahuddin’s past success, the margin of victory slipped from 51% in 2020 to approximately 39% this time around.
PH’s candidate, Suhaizan Kaiat, won with 48,283 votes, followed by PN’s Zulkifli Jaafar with 29,642 votes. Independent candidate Samsudin Mohamad Fauzi polled 528 votes.
Political risk consultancy KRA Group strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim, said that PH-BN’s victory is a testament to the late Salahuddin’s appeal and legacy, particularly his anti-inflation Rahmah Menu initiative for lower-income groups.
The successful outcome in both constituencies also highlights the Johorean voters’ support for the state government led by Umno Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi, seen as responsive to addressing people’s concerns, such as congestion at the Johor checkpoint.
Additionally, this outcome suggests that the so-called “green wave” momentum has not entirely reached the southern peninsula, despite Johor being Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s home state and a stronghold for Bersatu.
Muhyiddin, the president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, one of the two top members of the PN coalition, has seen a wave of Malay-Muslim voters propel PN to victory in the November 2022 General Election and recent August 2023 polls in three northern states.
The results also indicate that the court’s decision to drop charges against Zahid has not significantly affected PH’s support levels in these two constituencies.
This victory is expected to strengthen the political authority of the Prime Minister and provide more stability to the unity government following the August state elections, according to Amir.
Dr Mazlan Ali, a senior lecturer at the Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, anticipates stronger cooperation between Umno and PH in the wake of these wins, stabilising the government and alleviating pressure from PN.
The results also bode well for the PH-BN alliance in an upcoming by-election in Pahang scheduled for October.
Before the by-elections, PH and BN collectively held 51 seats in the Johor state assembly, with opposition parties holding only four seats. With these wins, the balance is once again 52-4.
Furthermore, BN and PH secured 23 out of 26 parliamentary seats in Johor during the last general elections.
In the 222-seat federal Parliament, Salahuddin’s passing had previously cost Anwar’s unity government its two-thirds majority by just one seat.
However, the Pulai victory restores the control of 148 seats to PH, BN, and their allies, while the remaining 74 seats in the Lower House are held by PN.
Recovering the two-thirds majority will facilitate Anwar’s ability to pass legislation, including potential amendments to the Constitution and changes to electoral boundaries.
The next general election is scheduled for 2027.