KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan’s imminent opportunity to retain the Rantau will only further consolidate his leadership in Umno despite his only being an acting president for now, several pundits have said.
Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun said a win in Rantau would definitely raise Mohamad’s — or Tok Mat as he is popularly known — stature within Umno and among Malay voters.
“But he still has to deal with a resurgent, albeit ‘resigned’ Najib. A defeated Mohamad would dent his political future, paving the way for Najib’s comeback,” he said, referring to former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Mohamad has been Rantau assemblyman for three terms since 2004, and has won straight fights against PKR where he initially won the seat uncontested in 2018.
He was previously even the Negri Sembilan mentri besar.
The Rantau by-election was declared after the Federal Court dismissed the appeal by Mohamad to reject the decision of the Seremban Election Court on November 16 last year which declared himself as the winner of the Rantau state seat as null and void.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid said Mohamad’s chances becoming party president may be realised sooner than later if he successfully defended the seat.
“He is favored by many Umno incumbents and members. He has held Rantau seat since 2004 and his sound track record attest to his leadership capability and capacity,” she said.
Tasmania University's Asia Institute's head James Chin however said there was no guarantee Mohamad will be president despite having the advantage should he wins but this could change if an annual general meeting was held to appoint the latter officially.
Malay-Muslim agenda to be ramped up
They also agreed that the combination of Umno and PAS in pushing for Malay-Muslim interests, which gained traction in the previous Cameron Highlands and the latest Semenyih by-elections, will once again be played up.
“My guess is that Umno-PAS will play the same narrative of the Malays being marginalised by PH but this time they will ramp up as they want a bigger majority and they have the momentum after the two by-elections,” Chin said, referring to Cameron Highlands and Semenyih.
Chin warned that such narratives could be detrimental to the country if it gets out of hand as more people from Umno-PAS accepted the “Malay-Muslim supremacy” strategy as a winning hand.
“New Malaysia is supposed to move away from racist politics but Umno-PAS is hell bent on bringing it back. If they are successful, then GE15 will be the decider if this country is multiracial or monoracial,” he said.
The Rantau state seat comprised Malays at 54 per cent, followed by Indians at 27 per cent and Chinese at 19 per cent.
To Kartini, the Malay-Muslim agenda will continue to linger in Rantau but other persisting issue such as the federal government’s ‘neglect’ of the constituency for being an Opposition seat may be played up.
“Pakatan Harapan has to strategise wisely and be able to convince and win the heart of the voters in Rantau,” she said.
Oh, however, downplayed the issues by pointing out that Rantau is a state seat and national issues may not play a significant role other than Mohamad being the acting Umno president.
“Local, livelihood- and development-oriented issues would predominate,” Oh added.
Odds stacked against Pakatan
Despite PH being the ruling coalition for both federal and state, the analysts agreed unanimously that Barisan Nasional and Mohamad currently have the upper hand in Rantau.
To Chin, deposing a long-serving state representative, more so if that someone previously held the post of state mentri besar for at least a decade between 2004 and 2018 was a difficult feat.
Although a PKR seat, Chin said voting pattern among the Malays will be carefully observed as Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) may find itself in choppy waters should the votes swing to BN.
“PPBM’s ultimate aim is to take over Umno's role as the sole protector of the Malays in the administration which can only truly happen if it defeats Umno entirely.
For one, Chin said a Cabinet reshuffle should take place for obvious reasons and for PH to get their act together.
“Tok Mat is likely to win again, albeit with a smaller majority. This is because the Rantau constituency is a semi-rural one, and the Malay voters are likely to split along the more conservative (rural rooted) and progressive (urban employed and thus more exposed) lines.
“With PAS’ help, Tok Mat would be able to consolidate the conservative Malay votes and reach out even to some progressive Malays who are dissatisfied with the lackluster performance of the new state government,” Oh said.
Kartini said it was too early to decide the victor, but conceded that BN has a better chance of retaining Rantau this time.
“Voters' behaviours and contemporary issues may lead to a different result. But if PH is able to rally a campaign while setting a course for good governance, a strong network and strategy that remove the fear amongst the Malays, victory will be theirs,” she said.