KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 — Independent Opposition party Gerakan is unlikely to stop the two-horse race for Tanjung Piai but could use the by-election to gauge voter appetite for its intended role as a “third force” in Malaysian politics, according to observers.

Predicting the by-election to purely be a contest between the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) and what remains of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, one said Gerakan was still not ready to be a credible alternative.

Political analyst Azmi Hassan said Gerakan needed more time to establish itself as an independent party, particularly as it is still seen as a Chinese entity despite being superficially multiracial.

The perception also meant Gerakan would be crowded out by DAP and MCA.

“Gerakan to be reckoned as the third force based on Tg Piai is quite bold since I believe the Gerakan candidate will not be a major factor to split vote between BN and PH,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

Gerakan’s independence could also be a liability, he added, as the party would not have the resources to offer voters much in return for their support.

For Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, the choice of Tanjung Piai for Gerakan’s debut outing as an independent party was poorly conceived.

He pointed out that the Johor federal constituency was far from the party’s base in the north.

“Its past successes were achieved as part of BN. Its strength was concentrated in pockets of non-Malay strongholds especially Penang,” he told Malay Mail.

He said Gerakan would also be hampered in Malay majority areas due to Gerakan president Datuk Dominic Lau’s allegedly disparaging remarks about Islamic religious schools in January 2017.

The analyst said the Malay community has not forgiven Lau for this.

“Johor has one of the most organised state Islamic religious curriculums in the country,” he said.

On Monday, Gerakan unexpectedly announced deputy secretary-general Wendy Subramaniam’s candidacy for the Tanjung Piai by-election, the party’s first foray into such a contest since it abandoned the BN coalition after the general election last year.

Lau said the poll would solidify Gerakan’s future as a political “third force” as it repositioned itself as an alternative to Malaysians.

Gerakan is banking on Wendy, a 38-year-old lawyer from Johor, to provide a local boost to its chances but Sivamurugan Pandian, political analyst with Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the party will find it difficult to set itself apart.

He said the party may have found misplaced confidence to contest by virtue of its previous success in neighbouring Simpang Renggam.

“Gerakan will be joined by other independents as well, with the assumption that it can benefit from disillusioned voters of both coalitions.

“However, at Tanjung Piai, it is still a fight between PH and BN,” he said.

Sivamurugan then suggested that Gerakan’s entry could simply be to remind Malaysians of its continued existence.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid and Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani both said Gerakan’s entry could provide an outlet for voters disenchanted with both PH and BN.

Azizuddin went as far as saying that Gerakan could even manage an upset given enough protest votes and a sufficiently low turnout.

“So it is still everyone’s seat to win,” he said.

PH is fielding 66-year-old Karmaine Sardini from Bersatu while BN is going with former Tanjung Piai MP, Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng, 55.

The Election Commission has set November 2 as Nomination Day and November 16 as polling day for the Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election.

The by-election was triggered after incumbent, the late Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, died of heart complications on September 21.

Dr Md Farid won the seat in the previous general election after he defeated Wee and PAS’s Nordin Othman in a three-way contest.

The Tanjung Piai constituency is a mixed seat comprising 57 per cent Malays, 42 per cent Chinese and 1 per cent Indians.

The seat has been traditionally contested by MCA and DAP since 2004. In 2018, DAP ceded the seat to Bersatu to contest under its PH campaign.