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BN could win over fence sitters if Zahid sits out election race, say analysts

They say Barisan Nasional will have a better chance of winning the support of fence sitters if it cleans up its image ahead of the polls.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi gestures at the party's general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur last year.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi gestures at the party's general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Analysts say Barisan Nasional (BN) may have a chance of winning over at least some of the voters currently on the fence if the coalition is brave enough to clean up its image ahead of the 15th general election (GE15) next month. 

One way of doing this, according to political observer Azizi Safar, is to ensure that its chairman, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, does not contest the election. 

"If Zahid doesn't contest, BN will receive more support," he said. 

"Right now, there are some who support BN but who do not want to vote because of the possibility that Zahid might become prime minister if the coalition wins GE15." 

Zahid, the incumbent for Bagan Datuk, was seen as key to the dissolution of Parliament which took effect on Oct 10 after repeated pressure on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to call for snap polls this year. 

This was despite multiple warnings about the likelihood of bad weather and floods during the northeast monsoon.

While Zahid was recently freed of 40 corruption charges related to the foreign visa system, he still faces a string of others over the misappropriation of funds from charity outfit Yayasan Akalbudi. 

PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli previously said that Pakatan Harapan (PH) would need to win 30% of some 60% of voters estimated to be on the fence. 

A recent study by Yale University on the other hand put the percentage of fence sitters at 33.4%. 

It also estimated about 28.1% of the popular vote for BN, 9.9% for Perikatan Nasional (PN), and 24.4% for PH, with the remaining 4.2% going to other parties. 

Former Johor Bahru MP Shahrir Samad has said that he will not contest the election in order to clear his name in court – the only leader in the Umno court cluster to have made such a move. 

He is charged with failing to declare RM1 million received from former prime minister Najib Razak.

Referring to the last general election on May 9, 2018, Azizi said the majority of voters had decided ahead of time which party to support due to ongoing issues including 1MDB and the goods and services tax (GST). 

This time, he said, the fence sitters would likely adopt a wait-and-see approach. 

Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia meanwhile said that while the percentage of voters estimated to be on the fence at GE14 had been between 37% and 40%, voter turnout on election day itself had been 82.3% – higher than the 76% recorded at GE13. 

"The fence sitters eventually got off the fence and made a decision," she said. 

"Maybe they were taking their time to decide who to support."

This time around, she said that fence sitters would likely focus on issues such as job opportunities, professional and cash aid, the gig economy, and loans for education and housing. 

"These are all basic things which ensure that the people's money is used for their well-being and not for the personal interests of politicians," she added. 

Azizi meanwhile expects fence sitters to prioritise offers of a new leadership, including the prime minister candidates and shadow Cabinets. 

"Young people want a work-life balance, job security, and a stable income," he said.

"Voters below the age of 40 make up more than 40% of the electorate. They could make or break victory for any given party or coalition."