ROMPIN, April 22 ― For 23 years, the Rompin parliamentary seat has remained an impenetrable fortress for Barisan Nasional (BN) thanks to the late Tan Sri Jamaluddin Jarjis, whose death on April 4 triggered the by-election here.
The ruling coalition is confident it will retain the seat by fielding another respected veteran, former Pahang deputy mentri besar and Rompin Umno division chief Datuk Hasan Ariffin, especially against a much younger and inexperienced opponent from PAS, which has struggled to gain a foothold here and throughout the state generally.
But there is concern within the Umno camp that while victory is all but assured, it may still suffer a symbolical defeat if it fails to add to or at least maintain the 15,000-vote majority from Election 2013.
Umno is aware of the widespread discontent over the government's controversial introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1 that caused the price of basic goods to rise, affecting low-income earners that are the core of the party’s support.
“We don't think PAS is the problem. GST is a much bigger problem,” a local Umno leader, who requested anonymity, said.
PAS will field Nazri Ahmad, who heads its Youth wing in Pahang, and is gearing efforts towards reducing Umno's majority, and believes the consumption tax could provide the ammunition it needs.
“The Rompin by-election will be a platform for us to campaign against the GST and hopefully we'll have a better chance at improving our votes although we know the chances of winning are slim,” PAS Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told Malay Mail Online yesterday.
Another local Umno leader said the Rompin by-election could gauge Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak's popularity amid attacks from his still-influential predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The latter's call for Najib to quit may not have resonated well with Umno's divisional chiefs, but analysts have warned against dismissing Dr Mahathir’s clout among the party grassroots.
“It could be like a referendum on Najib. It could also test Mahathir's influence...if it's still strong,” the Umno leader said.
Dr Mahathir have openly said he would push for Najib's resignation citing dissatisfaction with a slew of scandals plaguing the current administration, chiefly on the massive RM42 billion debt amassed by state investment arm 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
But national issues such as 1MDB are likely to take a backseat as by-elections are often focused on local issues. And while GST could be a setback, Umno and Najib may be able to bank on loyalty to the party to offset its effects.
Jamaluddin was killed along with five others when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in Semenyih on April 4.
Nominations for the Rompin by-election take place today, while polling will be held on May 5.