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Govt's focus on B40 risks alienating PH voter base, says analyst

But while many in the middle class are said to be dissatisfied with issues such as the cost of electricity, they may find themselves faced with a lack of options.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
A motorcyclist passes transmission towers or electricity pylons in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Bernama
A motorcyclist passes transmission towers or electricity pylons in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Bernama

While the government under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has been focusing on economic reforms such as the removal of subsidies for the wealthy, an analyst warns that such moves risk alienating the middle-class, long seen as a traditional voter base for his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. 

Anwar, who came to power last November on the back of an inconclusive election resulting in a hung parliament, recently said that the government would no longer bear the burden of electricity and haj subsidies for the wealthy in an effort to restructure subsidy provisions.

The government later announced that users who record more than 1,500 kWh or RM708 worth of electricity per month would see an increase in their bills of at least RM187 or 25% once the imbalance cost pass-through mechanism comes into force this month. 

While it assured that only about 1% of users in the peninsula would be affected by the change, many in the middle class had already reported a high increase in their electricity bills. 

Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said that in general, those in the middle class were not happy with the prime minister's decision. 

"Some families have children who are furthering their studies and taking hybrid classes," she said. 

"They use computers for their work and are fed up with the electricity bills." 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she added that class narratives were often still based on race, as the majority of the Malay and Bumiputera communities were considered less well off than the non-Malays. 

"The more interesting issue is the Malays who live in cities with a higher cost of living who become the urban poor," she said. 

Malaysia determines its social categories through class divisions according to income and wealth, namely the T20 high-income earners, the M40 or middle class, and the B40 or those in the low-income bracket. 

For the most part, the B40 consists of those in rural areas while the M40 and T20 groups are concentrated in urban areas. 

Kartini said that while the class-based approach could still help the poor, the government would need a strategy for effective implementation. 

Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia meanwhile said that the "extreme polarisation" of politics had left PH voters – on average those in the urban middle and upper class groups – with no choice. 

"They will not vote for Perikatan Nasional," he said, referring to the federal opposition pact consisting of PAS, Bersatu and Gerakan. 

"So PH can put aside their interests for the time being and focus on the B40, the majority of whom are from the Malay community where PH needs to increase its support." 

On the likelihood of middle-class voters deciding not to vote as a form of protest at the upcoming state elections, Azmil said the M40 would still turn out although perhaps in fewer numbers. 

"State elections in general are not as popular as general elections," he added.