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Najib put to test

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

The helicopter crash on Saturday dealt yet another blow to the beleaguered prime minister Najib Tun Razak

The PM's envoy to the United States cum MP for Rompin Tan Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis was a political arm of Najib, while the PM's principal private secretary Datuk Seri Azlin Alias was the behind-the-scene mover. It is believed to be hard for the PM to accept the fact that he had to lose these two key persons in just an instant, with most tests confronting him in the days to come.

The first test will be two upcoming by-elections seen as a "public referendum" for the PM's approval as well as his status within Umno.

In recent months, the prime minister has found himself besieged by both political and economic issues, including the harsh criticisms from former PM Tun Mahathir, impact from the hudud law issue, backlash from the opposition, dramatic fall in international oil prices, fast depreciating ringgit, 1MDB debts, and public outcry over GST.

The PM is still firmly in power for the time being, thanks to strong grassroots support, but if he falls out of favor of the people, the situation could be reversed, and the upcoming by-elections will be a good benchmark in this respect.

The Pardons Board has turned down the petition for the pardon of Anwar Ibrahim, and consequently a by-election for Permatang Pauh is imminent. And soon, we will also have another one for Rompin parliamentary seat. PKR is anticipated to retain Permatang Pauh, and it is equally unlikely for Umno to lose Rompin. However, the support rate for BN will reflect the Malay support and the return of Chinese votes for the ruling coalition two years after GE13.

As of the second quarter of 2014, Permatang Pauh had a total of 72,513 voters, of whom 50,363 (or 69.45%) were Malays, 16,589 (22.88%) Chinese and 4,584 (6.32%) Indians. Permatang Pauh is a stronghold of Anwar Ibrahim, who won by a majority of 13,388 votes in 2008, down slightly to 11,721 votes in 2013.

While giving up on Chempaka by-election in Kelantan, Umno nevertheless vowed to take on Permatang Pauh or at least thin down some of PKR's majority in a bid to thrash Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat. Umno could have reached this goal if the by-election were to he held before the implementation of GST. Unfortunately time is no more on their side, especially with goods prices remaining high instead of trending lower as our minister has earlier claimed.

Despite the differences over the hudud law issue, it is believed that this will not significantly sway the support of Penang voters for Pakatan, especially with the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim in the sodomy case.

It is interesting to see how the Chinese voters in Permatang Pauh will vote. During the May 31 by-election in Teluk Intan last year, Gerakan Rakyat president Mah Siew Keong only managed a razor-thin majority due to the return of Chinese votes in favor of the BN. What Chinese voters want to see are good governance, a thriving economy, educational development, lower crime rate and corruption-free government. I have no idea how far the hudud issue could tip the balance.

Rompin, in the meantime, is a traditional fortress of Umno. In 2013, Jamaluddin Jarjis clinched a vast majority of 15,114 votes against PAS' Nuridah Mohd Salleh. 87.7% of voters in Rompin are Malays, followed by 8.3% of Orangasli and 2.49% Chinese.

Rompin is a predominantly rural constituency with a large number of Malay villages and Felda settlements. These are seen as the political stronghold of Umno. However, if Mahathir steps up his attacks resulting in instability within Umno, coupled with the ramifications from GST that may easily drain some Malay support away from Najib's home state.

In the past Umno's by-election campaigns used to be helmed by Muhyiddin Yassin. But following his absence from the meeting between Umno president and divisional chiefs last month, it remains to be seen whether Najib will take over the war banner himself this time.

Sure enough the by-elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin could serve as a litmus test for Pakatan's cooperation and hudud's vote-drawing ability. If PAS fails badly in Rompin, it will have an impact on the party's elections in early June (supposing the by-election is held before that).


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