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With Zahid on top, EC rule on campaign posters could backfire on BN

Will splashing the BN chairman's face on posters bring in the votes?

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
It remains to be seen whether Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will be the poster boy for Barisan Nasional's campaign, with one analyst cautioning that the coalition chairman lacks a 'winning aura'. Photo: Bernama
It remains to be seen whether Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will be the poster boy for Barisan Nasional's campaign, with one analyst cautioning that the coalition chairman lacks a 'winning aura'. Photo: Bernama

A three-year-old ruling by the Election Commission (EC) on campaign posters made during the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government could end up backfiring on the coalition at the next general election, in the event that it contests on its own.

BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been urging Umno to contest under the coalition’s banner, after securing a mandate from the recent Umno general assembly to cut ties with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc.

This could mean that Umno candidates contesting under the BN logo might be using posters bearing the image of Zahid.

Given his multiple corruption charges, making him the face of any campaign would provide ready ammunition for rival candidates.

Just days before the 2018 general election, the EC issued a ruling that political parties may only use images of their top two leaders on campaign posters, in addition to those of the candidate contesting the constituency in question.

The ruling, which riled up Pakatan Harapan in the run-up to the 14th general election, is still in place, MalaysiaNow has learnt.

“We have not revoked it,” said a source in the EC while another spokesman confirmed that the ruling still applies.

The EC “guideline”, issued just as the election campaign began in 2018, effectively prevented PH from using photos of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim across the country.

Mahathir was at that time leading the PH coalition, while Anwar was still serving time in prison for the crime of sodomy. The two leaders had enjoyed wide support after burying their hatchet, and were riding high on the back of public anger over then-prime minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB scandal.

This time around, it remains to be seen whether Zahid will be the poster boy for BN’s campaign.

One analyst said any use of images bearing Zahid’s face could turn away votes.

Hisommudin Bakar pointed to the Umno chief’s corruption charges and ongoing trials, where lurid details of alleged wrongdoings have been revealed in open court.

He said he does not think that Zahid brings with him a “winning aura”.

He added that the same holds true for a large section of voters in the case of Najib, despite his popularity among Malay social media users, powered by the so-called “Bossku” tagline.

“But for the non-Malay segment, his kleptocrat image is still strong and hard to accept,” Hisommudin, who heads pollster Ilham Centre, told MalaysiaNow, borrowing a term used by US authorities in exposing the theft of billions of dollars in 1MDB money.

Hisommudin also said Umno had been shackled by the fact that it could not come up with a “clean figure” as its “poster boy”.

He named Umno deputy president Mohamad Hassan, Sembrong MP Hishammuddin Hussein, and former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin as among those who would be a better choice as the face of BN’s election campaign.

But while they have not been slapped with corruption charges, he said, they might not have much support within Umno.

In the case of Khairy, Hisommudin said he is “less popular among the old cohorts in Umno”.

“But his advantage is that he is a young leader who carries with him fresh and progressive ideas in Umno,” he added.

Khairy lost the president’s post to Zahid at the Umno elections, held some two months after the party’s fall from power.

He had emerged as one of Zahid’s critics as the Umno president launched a series of attacks against the PN government. He recently urged the Umno leadership to obtain a fresh mandate through party elections before going to the national polls.