KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan’s victory in Rantau is yet another sign that the political cooperation between Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS has gained momentum despite going against the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
Just months after defeating Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) in the Semenyih by-election, Umno and PAS went up against PKR in Rantau and battled with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who guided his party to support its candidate Dr S. Streram.
Despite the intense pressure from PH, Mohamad — also popularly known as Tok Mat — managed to defeat Dr Streram with a majority of 4,510 votes.
The Rantau by-election also saw the highest voter turnout since the 14th general election with 79.31 per cent out of 20,926 registered voters.
So what happened? These are the three reasons as observed by Malay Mail as to why PH failed to capture Rantau.
PH’s poor choice of candidate
While Dr Streram was the one who pushed for a by-election on the grounds that Mohamad’s election was not valid, voters mostly said that he remains an unknown personality in the semi-urban seat.
Even with a respectable reputation as an anaesthetist, locals revealed that the “good doctor” had difficulties connecting with the local community.
Dr Streram began on the wrong foot right from the start of the campaign when he said his aim was to have a fire station built in Rantau, which puzzled many voters as one already exists.
His subsequent attempts at raising issues concerning housing, better healthcare facilities and poverty in the district failed to grab the attention of constituents.
In contrast, Tok Mat, a three-time incumbent of the assembly seat, who also served as Negri Sembilan’s mentri besar from 2004 until last year, exuded more confidence and is well-regarded by the locals.
More importantly, he is a Rantau native who built his rapport with a personal touch and is familiar with the district’s problems. This had a compounding effect on voters.
Dr Streram despite his best efforts was going up against the ‘Tok Mat’ factor, which made victory a tall order for him from the beginning.
Over-reliance on ‘charismatic’ Anwar
Another factor that went against Dr Streram was his over-reliance on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his campaign.
Anwar repeatedly explained that the party chose Dr Streram as its by-election candidate out of a sense of justice.
Tok Mat had won the seat uncontested in May 2018 after Dr Streram was unable to submit his nomination papers after being denied entry to the nomination centre for not having a pass issued by the EC.
This was despite dissenting voices within PKR who claimed Dr Streram is not a suitable candidate to go up against Tok Mat, who is also Umno’s acting president.
PKR also celebrated the 20th anniversary of its formation in Rantau on April 4, something which locals said was awkward for them to do be a part of. Throughout the day, Anwar participated in back-to-back events across the district, which led to comments that it was him and not Dr Streram who was actually contesting.
Dr Streram, also had the full backing of PH leaders, including Cabinet ministers, who came down to stump on his behalf. Although some notable speakers like PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli and Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu drew substantial numbers to their ceramahs, this failed to translate into votes.
While Dr Streram managed to explain to voters what he could bring to the table as he reintroduced himself as a medical practitioner ready to aid his fellow constituents, his voice was drowned out by that of other, more stellar political personalities who came to support him.
PH’s failure to address the Malay community and voters’ livelihood
PH’s failure to address bread-and-butter issues and misfiring in allaying the rising discontent of Malay voters proved to be the proverbial shot in the foot.
Throughout the campaigning period, Umno and PAS focused on three primary factors: Defence of the faith, Malay rights and sovereignty of the monarchs. This proved to be highly effective in the previous by-elections that took place in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih earlier this year.
However, PH failed to counter this narrative, despite trying to discredit Tok Mat by tying him to the scandal-ridden administration of his former superior and prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
It did not help when PH leaders harped on about the Felda White Paper and Tabung Haji financial mismanagement by claiming “it was Malays who robbed the Malays”, in reference to Umno’s past misdeeds.
This became a setback instead, when many voters simply dug in their heels to support BN and PAS.
PH’s failure to provide insights on the country’s direction, as well as resolve issues, such as the rising cost of living and expensive housing market, further contributed to the lack of trust from voters.
Rantau’s youth, in particular, constantly complained about the lack of job opportunities and a multitude of broken pledges by PH, including its failure to abolish the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN), are another reason why it failed to capture the seat.
Even Tok Mat acknowledged that BN won due to the support of youth voters.
While PH appeared to be apologetic over its broken pledges and urged people to be patient, the Rantau by-election is indeed a sign that voters are fed up.