KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The Cameron Highlands by-election, which kicks off today, has been described as the first major electoral test for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government since the 14th general election (GE14) on May 9 last year.
DAP’s political education assistant national director Ong Kian Ming explained that this is because it is the first by-election in a constituency that voted for Barisan Nasional (BN) in GE14.
“If PH wins this crucial by-election it would be a serious setback for BN, one which perhaps it cannot recover from,” Ong, who is the Bangi MP, said in an analysis on the by-election.
He cautioned that even though BN won Cameron Highlands in GE14 by a razor-thin margin of 597 votes, PH still has to be vigilant.
“Even though we now hold power on a federal level it cannot be assumed this will translate into more support come polling day on January 26,” he said.
PH is giving DAP’s M. Manogaran, who lost in GE14, another shot at Cameron Highlands. He is expected to face BN-direct candidate, Ramli Mohd Nor, and MyPPP president Tan Sri M Kayveas.
Backed with statistical data, Ong identified five challenges PH faced in the race to win Cameron Highlands, such as fulfilling the demands of key voting blocs through government policy.
“This includes addressing the demands for more foreign workers among vegetable farmers, cleaning up the environment for constituents, and having more inclusive developments for the Orang Asli, to name a few. The ball is now in our court to deliver,” he said.
Another challenge is to increase the existing base of Malay and Orang Asli voting support from its present 10 per cent.
“With fewer restrictions in campaigning in Orang Asli and Malay-majority areas PH should be able to increase its support. But how much the increase will be is anyone’s guess,” Ong said.
This is balanced by the need to retain its existing support among Chinese and Indian voters.
“Given that we have not been able to immediately meet their high expectations post-GE14, we expect their support to decrease.
“However the floor for Chinese support cannot fall below 70 per cent, even as there may be more room to increase Indian support to as much as that amount, resulting from a weakened MIC,” he said.
Ong added it is also crucial that PH avoid being perceived as abusing government resources in a similar manner to BN when it held federal power.
“There will be a much higher level of scrutiny from the press, the Election Commission, and NGOs our leaders’ activities, probably more so compared to our BN counterparts.
“Not only must we live up to the standards demanded by the public, we must also face pressures from a BN-led state government with less compunction to abuse resources,” he said.
PH would also do well to minimise the anticipated drop in voter turnout rate, particularly among its core supporters.
“I am reminded of the 2014 Teluk Intan by-election which saw 67.4 per cent compared to 80.4 per cent in the 2013 13th general election.
“This resulted in a loss by 258 votes for DAP in 2014, compared to the victory by 7,313 votes in 2013,” Ong said.
In conclusion, he said so long as four key targets are met it is possible for PH to win what he described as a difficult by-election.
“We cannot allow turnout to drop below 55 per cent especially among key PH supporters, achieving at least 70 per cent of the Chinese and Indian votes, increasing Malay and Orang Asli support from 10 to 30 per cent, and increasing early and/or postal votes from 10 to 40 per cent.
“Hitting these targets will increase PH’s chances to eke out a victory in the most closely-watched by-election following GE14,” Ong said.
In GE14, the number of voters was 32,048 with 362 postal voters and 219 early voters.
Cameron Highlands is probably the most ethnically diverse parliament seat in Malaysia, said Ong, where no one community represents more than 40 per cent of voters — 33.7 per cent Malay, 29.5 per cent Chinese, 14.9 per cent Indian and 21.9 per cent Orang Asli and others.
According to the most recent electoral roll, the number of voters for the by-elections has dropped slightly to 32,008.
The Election Court had declared that the victory of MIC’s Datuk C. Sivarraajh invalid after corrupt practices were found to have influenced voters in the constituency in GE14.