As Anwar Ibrahim’s honeymoon with the nation appears to be quickly coming to an end, six coming state elections due before September are his worst nightmare.
The state executives of Kedah, Penang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Selangor and Negri Sembilan held off dissolving their assemblies when the general election was called for November 19 last year.
These coming state elections will be a referendum on the legitimacy of Anwar Ibrahim’s government.
Public sentiment will be centered around the Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional nexus. This is the rakyat’s real first opportunity to vote on this relationship.
Today’s political environment
Although Anwar is traveling around the country talking of hope and change, his administration in action just reflects the sameness of the previous Ismail Sabri government, and the Muhyiddin Yassin one before that.
Little empathy has been shown over the kos sara hidup (cost of living) where there are still shortages of eggs and chickens, food monopolies still in place, and retention of the online purchases tax announced by the previous government.
The perceived gaslighting of Rafizi Ramli on the issue of inflation, and home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail stating the SOSMA laws won’t be reviewed, makes the new government look as absurd and arrogant as bygone governments.
Talk of taking a hard approach to corruption and the introduction of Malaysia Madani are seen very skeptically by many voters.
The Tamil community feels let down there is not any Tamil representative on the Education Advisory Board.
The coming state elections
The coming six state elections will most likely be held after the Hari Raya Eid season, sometime in June. This will be just after the May Umno elections, where the top two posts won’t be contested.
This will put the spotlight on Umno president and deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who must deal with a massive rump of opposition to him within the party.
Zahid’s continuing court case will be a public relations difficulty, as it will continually bring up the issue of corruption that PN will capitalize upon.
If Zahid takes the same ruthless action of dropping his opponents as candidates in the coming state elections, this could lead to a further exodus from Umno and loss of key state seats, just like what happened in Perlis.
Former Umno warlord Shahidan Kassim totally destroyed Umno in the state.
PH could potentially be hit by a double whammy. Pakatan may be punished for their unpopularity as a government, and suffer from being associated with the perceived corruption-tainted Umno.
Seat allocation will be a headache
Before even getting to the election campaign, seat allocation will be a major issue.
There will no doubt be many disappointed people who will lose their endorsement as sitting members. So, we must expect a host of party resignations and three- or four-cornered electoral fights again.
This is going to be a massive challenge where Pakatan, which holds power in Penang, Selangor and Negri Sembilan, may have to give up seats to Umno.
Some of the decisions Anwar makes will certainly be against better strategic judgement. Don’t expect PKR, DAP and Amanah grassroots to be happy at all.
Disaffected Umno stalwarts may have incentives to join Bersatu or PAS for a better chance of winning.
There is little doubt that PN will win big in Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah. PH will lose a lot of seats in Kedah.
PH should hold on to government in Penang but its Achilles’ heel is the Malay-dominated seats on the mainland.
PH can’t afford to lose more than 16 seats. Both Negri Sembilan and Selangor are in danger of falling into PN hands.
If PN wins five out of the six states, this would be catastrophic for the legitimacy of Anwar Ibrahim. It would also lead to the question about how long the Umno-PH marriage could last.
Just after Anwar was appointed prime minister, at the beginning of his honeymoon period, and Zahid was given accolades for his speech on the campaign trail, PH lost to PN in the Padang Serai election trailing behind PN, with 51,000 to 35,000 votes. That was a 16,000-vote majority for PN.
The Anwar administration is showing its form now, and many aren’t all that happy with what they are seeing.
Those who wanted to give Anwar a chance when he first became prime minister have been looking very closely.
Some make excuses for Anwar, claiming he has very little room to maneuver in the coalition.
Zahid is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see. He was the eagle that made Anwar prime minister, but now he is an albatross that can strangle him as well.
Perikatan Nasional is ready to rumble
The leadership of PN still feel betrayed when they weren’t given the opportunity to put a government together. Most of all, they feel Zahid was the one who betrayed them.
The goal of PN is to take out as many Umno seats as they possibility can. Weaken Umno and make them irrelevant in the Malay heartlands.
PKR will suffer collateral damage if PN has its way.
The corruption factor that played into PN hands during the general election is still there to play.
Political stability is at stake
The conservativeness of Anwar’s government could be seen through the need to appeal to the Malay heartlands.
If this holds Selangor, Negri Sembilan and minimizes losses in Kedah and Penang, Anwar will prove to be a shrewd strategist.
If PN can hit hard and cause maximum electoral damage, then there are other political possibilities that could lead to more political instability.
Perhaps one of the keys to the state elections will be the voter turnout.
If those working away from their hometowns don’t return, this could hurt the DAP and PKR.
If the youth don’t turn out to vote, this could take the luster off any repeat of the so-called “green wave.”
(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)