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In far and away Perlis...

  • A significant impact on Perlis BN will only be possible with a powerful anti-establishment sentiment. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Sin Chew Daily

I TOLD PERLIS MCA's Teh Chai Aan jokingly, “If you get elected, you will be the Number One rep in Malaysia.”

I was not exaggerating, at least numerically.

Teh is contesting Titi Tinggi state assembly seat under Padang Besar.

Among the 222 parliamentary seats in the country, Padang Besar is P1, while in Perlis, Titi Tinggi is N1.

And the codes P1 and N1 speak of the state's northernmost geographical location.

My election journey has taken me from the southernmost city of Johor Bahru to the northernmost Titi Tinggi.

But, these two localities at the far ends of Peninsular Malaysia are very different by nature. JB is thriving with tons of modern highrises and jam-packed with cars while the northernmost state of Perlis only has a handful of small towns surrounded by miles of rice fields, plantations and forests.

While JB is a heated battleground in GE14, Perlis is by comparison quiet but holds countless unpredictabilities.

Sporting a relatively dark complexion and stout build, Teh Chai Aan is a down-to-earth man that knows the state inside out, having had his footprints all across the state.

He said nothing big would ever happen to Perlis and the biggest issue there was none other than the day-to-day life of the people who are more concerned about goods prices and economic development than anything else.

Of the four northernmost states in Malaysia – Perlis, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan – Perlis is the only one BN has had an uninterrupted rule since independence.

The state's economic development is buoyed by the bustling border trade in Padang Besar, the Kuala Perlis to Changlun highway and the Universiti Malaysia Perlis in Arau.

That explains why BN has never lost an election war in Perlis.

HOWEVER, LATE LAST month, Tun Mahathir descended on Perlis to anchor a Pakatan Harapan rally. That night, the otherwise peaceful Perlis suddenly became a little different.

The plaza outside the state capital's mosque was a hive of activity, a spectacle that marveled many an observer. Even the former prime minister himself was taken aback by the huge turnout.

People sat on the floor to see Mahathir, Kak Wan and Mat Sabu, listening attentively to their assaultive remarks against Najib and Umno.

At the end of the day, everyone flashed their handphones, sending the mood to near boiling point.

What is the message behind this unusual fever in faraway Perlis?

Are the people in Perlis just curious about Mahathir? Or some of them are actually unhappy with the incumbent BN administration?

SURE ENOUGH AN emotionally charged evening could not be interpreted as an imminent turnaround in state politics.

The smallest state in Malaysia only has three parliamentary seats all won by BN in the last general elections.

As for the 15 state assembly seats, BN took 13 (Umno 12, MCA 1), PKR 1 and PAS 1.

The opposition only managed to win one state seat each through PKR and PAS, and the seat won by PKR is Chinese-majority Indera Kayangan.

Perlis PAS has a long history and a well organized structure. It has even produced a heavyweight figure Harun Din who used to be the Syura Council chairman, a respected cleric on the same par as Nik Aziz and Hadi Awang.

Not even when Harun Din was around could PAS stage a significant challenge to BN.

Mahathir, meanwhile, lacks a strong rapport with the people in Perlis, and his Pakatan Harapan team lacks a strong organization there. A remarkable impact on BN will only be possible with a powerful anti-establishment sentiment.

Any split within the state Umno will erode BN's strength and give the rival PH an unexpected advantage.

WHILE THE OPPOSITION is weak in the state, the ruling party itself is not united either.

The chronic factional struggle within Perlis Umno is yet to be appeased, as evidenced by the changes in MB candidates from strongman Shahidan Kassim to the transitional Mat Isa Sabu and the transplanted incumbent Azlan Man.

Power shift is an ongoing process in the state. So is the political tussle.

Azlan is not someone who can take full control of the situation. He was named the MB as a consequence of compromise among the factions after the 2013 general elections.

A technocratic leader, Azlan is prudent, indecisive and often seen as lacking in approachability and being detached from the grassroots. His performance as MB trails behind public expectations.

Shahidan, the incumbent minister in the PM's department cum state Umno chairman, has never actually given up his quest for state power.

He was widely anticipated to contest a state seat this time, paving the way for his return to the MB's office. But when the list was finally unveiled, his name was nowhere to be found, making things even murkier now.


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