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The question of Penang's Malay vote

While the state government as a whole is unlikely to change, support in Malay seats might swing along the trajectory seen at GE15.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Tourists and locals mingle at Armenian Street in George Town during the Chinese New Year holidays. Photo: Bernama
Tourists and locals mingle at Armenian Street in George Town during the Chinese New Year holidays. Photo: Bernama

While prospects are slim of a change of government in Penang given the state's strong backing for DAP, a political observer has cautioned Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) against taking Malay seats for granted in light of Perikatan Nasional's (PN) unexpected gains at the last general election.

Penang is one of six states expected to hold elections by the middle of the year. 

But without a strong Malay component, PH may find itself up against tough odds in Malay-majority constituencies. 

Political observer Azizi Safar said competition in such seats would be tight if voting patterns and sentiments continued along the same trajectory as seen at the Nov 19 polls last year. 

"PN will win more Malay seats," he told MalaysiaNow. 

And while charges have been brought against PN leaders like Muhyiddin Yassin and Tasek Gelugor MP Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Azizi said these were unlikely to affect support for the federal opposition. 

"On the contrary, there might be an increase in support," he added. 

Of the 40 state seats in Penang, 14 are Malay-majority constituencies: Penaga, Permatang Berangan, Sungai Dua, Penanti, Pinang Tunggal, Permatang Pasir, Bertam, Seberang Jaya, Telok Ayer Tawar, Sungai Acheh and Sungai Bakap in Seberang Perai; and Telok Bahang, Pulau Betong and Bayan Lepas on the island. 

These will likely be divided between PH and BN, which lead the government at the federal level through cooperation formed in the aftermath of last year's general election. 

Penang, long held by PH, was not exempt from the shift in support to PN, with Permatang Pauh incumbent Nurul Izzah Anwar losing to Muhammad Fawwaz Mohamad Jan.

Azizi said it would be difficult for Umno to lead government parties in capturing the Malay vote in Penang, as the once-dominant party was struggling with Malay support in general. 

"PKR holds more seats than Umno at the moment," he said. 

"So it is under more pressure to deliver than Umno." 

PH holds 11 of the 14 Malay seats in Penang. Umno meanwhile holds two and PAS, one. 

DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke recently said that BN and PH had a month to discuss seat allocations for the state polls. 

Azizi, a former executive secretary for Penang BN, said Umno might be given three to five seats to contest.

But he said that PN's non-Malay component Gerakan, which once formed the state government, was unlikely to win even one seat.

"MCA and MIC meanwhile might not be given any seats to contest," he said.