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Can PN wave break through southern wall?

Attention will be on whether the coalition can find success in a state long dominated by Barisan Nasional and Umno, as by-elections loom in Johor.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Volunteers from Barisan Nasional hang flags in Taman Stulang Laut, Johor Bahru, ahead of the state election on March 12, 2022.
Volunteers from Barisan Nasional hang flags in Taman Stulang Laut, Johor Bahru, ahead of the state election on March 12, 2022.

The recent state elections saw Perikatan Nasional (PN) continuing the winning streak first seen at the general election last year, maintaining its hold on Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan, and making inroads in Penang and the prize state of Selangor which were nevertheless retained by the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. 

In Penang, it widened its hold with 11 state seats while in Selangor, it won a total of 22, denying PH-BN the two-thirds majority previously held in the legislative assembly.

Further south in Negeri Sembilan, however, its wave of support receded, leaving the federal opposition pact with just five of the 36 seats it contested. 

And with two by-elections looming in Johor, one of the questions now swirling is whether PN will be able to make headway in a state long dominated by BN and its lynchpin party Umno. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, political analyst Mazlan Ali said Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka had been BN strongholds for a long time. 

"These states also have their own customs," he added, citing the adat perpatih in Melaka and Negeri Sembilan. 

"It would be difficult for the people to leave behind the customary sentiments which determined the support for Umno from the start."

The by-elections for the state seat of Simpang Jeram and the parliamentary seat of Pulai were called following the death of their incumbent, Salahuddin Ayub.

Scheduled for Sept 9, they come just four weeks after the Aug 12 elections which saw the status quo maintained but with PN continuing to solidify its grip among the Malay electorate. 

The by-elections are also expected to provide further insight on the extent to which PN is accepted in Johor, eight months after the administration of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in. 

At the Melaka election in 2021 and the Johor polls in 2022, BN formed the state governments with two-thirds majorities. 

PN meanwhile won just two seats in Melaka and three in Johor. 

Umno Supreme Council member Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently played down talk of a PN wave in Johor, saying its influence was limited to the north where PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin holds sway. 

Nur Jazlan, the Pulai Umno division chief, also said that there was no trace of the popularity enjoyed by Kedah menteri besar and PN election chief Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor in the country's southernmost state. 

An Umno branch chief in Labis, Johor, said religious sentiments in the state were different from those on the east coast. 

"Umno's strategy runs parallel from the grassroots to the top levels," he told MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity.

"Bersatu meanwhile does not have much of a presence here and relies primarily on PAS." 

He also said that the influence of Johor Umno could be seen as far off as Pahang and Melaka. 

While Johor was not involved in the Aug 12 elections, Umno had mobilised its divisions in the state to assist efforts across the border in Negeri Sembilan, in the seats of Palong and Bahau. 

Mazlan said the states of Johor, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan had also been urbanised, making their people more open. 

"Negeri Sembilan gets a boost from the development in the Klang Valley while Melaka receives a leg up from the development in Johor," he said. 

Melaka PAS Youth chief Ahmad Bilal Rahudin meanwhile acknowledged that the party's influence differed according to region. 

"The wave is there, but it is not as strong as it is in the north and the east coast," he said. 

"The racial composition of state and parliamentary seats is not the same, either." 

Bilal, who was fielded by PAS in Serkam during the Melaka election, however said that PN would be able to make inroads in more areas, based on the coalition's achievements in Melaka and Johor.