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BN's ties with PH cost it the army vote, says analyst

Mazlan Ali says it does not necessarily follow that the army would support a defence minister from Barisan Nasional.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Military personnel wait to cast their votes at an early voting centre in Cheras, Aug 8.
Military personnel wait to cast their votes at an early voting centre in Cheras, Aug 8.

A defence minister from Barisan Nasional (BN) is no guarantee of support from military personnel, an analyst says in the aftermath of the Aug 12 elections which saw the BN-Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact losing a large chunk of votes in seats known for their army bases. 

While BN-PH retained their hold on Negeri Sembilan as a whole, they lost the contest for the state seats of Gemas and Bagan Pinang in what Mazlan Ali described as a continuation of the army's support for Perikatan Nasional (PN), first seen at the Melaka and Johor polls. 

"At the Johor state election, the army was still with PN," he said, referring to the polls which took place in March 2022. 

"When BN joined the unity government, it appeared that the army was still behind PN as BN had joined forces with PH. 

"That is why BN couldn't get the army vote in Negeri Sembilan. Just because the defence minister is from BN doesn't mean that the army will rally behind BN as well." 

While there was still some support for BN among military personnel, he added, this appeared to be fragmented.

At the Negeri Sembilan election last weekend, PH won 17 of the 36 seats in the state legislative assembly. BN won 14, and PN five. 

Defence Minister Mohamad Hasan, who is also Umno deputy president and deputy chairman of BN, contested and won the state seat of Rantau, retaining it for another term. 

But in Bagan Pinang, which is known as the Armed Forces City, BN's Mohd Najib Mohd Isa lost to PAS candidate Abdul Fatah Zakaria by a majority of 3,426 votes. 

And in Gemas, which is home to the Syed Sirajuddin army camp, BN candidate Abd Razak Ab Said lost to Bersatu's Ridzuan Ahmad by 3,120 votes. 

A similar pattern was seen in Sungai Udang, a state seat with a significant number of army voters and one of two which PN won at the Melaka election in November 2021. 

Mazlan, of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, said the dynamics of voting among army personnel had changed with the launch of the early voting system.

"A few decades ago, if you talk about postal votes, 100% would go to BN," he said. 

"But after Bersih appealed to the Election Commission, early voting was introduced, and the military would vote under the watch of polling station agents and those tasked with counting the votes. 

"They could vote like any member of the public and were free to decide on their support, not just for the ruling party."

Recalling the 14th general election in 2018, Mazlan said the army at the time had thrown its support behind PH, which was led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. 

Nevertheless, he said, the army voters had grown dissatisfied with PH due to a number of reasons. 

He added that they might have turned to PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin, who had prioritised them during his time in the top office.