Pakatan on the defensive in Semenyih

Barisan Nasional and PAS flags are seen along Jalan Sg Lalang in Semenyih February 8, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Barisan Nasional and PAS flags are seen along Jalan Sg Lalang in Semenyih February 8, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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SEMENYIH, Feb 21 — The sixth day of campaigning for the Semenyih state seat by-election saw the four candidates meeting voters around the nearly 200km area day and night to drive home their missions and visions.

Regardless of the audience age, they made the same pledges to serve day and night if chosen.

They did not touch on national issues such as the purported conspiracy in the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) leadership to topple the Prime Minister, which seems to be picking up steam.

The battle lines here were made clear on the nomination day itself: the marginalisation of Malay-Muslims under PH, unfulfilled promises, and the rising cost of living.

Acting Umno president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan outlined the issues and clearly stated the extent of the political cooperation with PAS that painted a scenario where youths and Malay voters were still not satisfied with the new government.

Mohamad, or Tok Mad as he is fondly known, stated clearly that the result of the by-election would be a referendum of people’s evaluation of the new government.

The theme was the same as the recently concluded Cameron Highlands by-election in Pahang that saw the ruling PH candidate from DAP losing quite badly.

Semenyih, being suburban seat just 45 minutes drive from cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur, can be considered a bellwether to determine whether the nine-month-old government is doing fine or still grappling with issues left behind by the 60-year-old Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

BN is trying hard to make an impact here, which will determine if it is returning to the mainstream political scene or still stuck in its rut.

PAS is allying with BN here as it did in Cameron Highlands. This will rattle PH’s position, particularly Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) that is fielding Muhamad Aiman Zainali as the coalition’s candidate.

Seen as fighting an uphill battle from the start, Bersatu is still struggling to penetrate the hearts and minds of voters as it must first introduce Aiman, then get him acquainted with the voters, then reveal his unexposed leadership qualities, and so on.

As usual with Malay voters, he has to visit the whole constituency’s suraus and mosques, perform prayers together with them, learn to smile, and listen to grievances.

BN’s candidate, veteran Zakaria Hanafi, is known throughout the constituency as he is an Umno branch leader who mixes well with the Malay voters, especially the suraus and mosques.

He has been an active part in handling funerals and burials as well as wedding kenduris, with the people nicknaming him “YB” for his concern for them despite being just an Umno member.

Candidate popularity aside, the issue of Malay-Muslim marginalisation seemed to be the central topic in the house-to-house campaign by Umno and PAS, which is the most popular and common method.

It is done at night when the householders are back from work.

Both the Malay-Muslim Opposition parties have a long history of successes through this approach whereas Bersatu is very weak, especially in Semenyih.

The party depends on the PKR machinery for such campaigning and this did not seem to go down well with some households.

PH is actually on a defensive position in this by-election — just like it was in Cameron Highlands — in all aspects and it is not surprising if Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will have to come down to give his Bersatu party the final push.

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