PETALING JAYA, Sept 5 ― Pakatan Harapan’s Halimey Abu Bakar is struggling to maintain the momentum in his campaign for the Seri Setia by-election this weekend, which comes just a week after a three-month tax holiday ended.
The implementation of the Sales and Service Tax (SST) on Sept 1, among others, has been negatively received by sections of voters, especially those in lower income categories.
With talk that the turnout could be as low as 50 per cent on Saturday, Halimey is unlikely to attain anywhere near the late incumbent Dr Shaharuddin Badaruddin’s convincing 19,372-vote majority.
The former Petaling Jaya city councillor took the early lead in the 21-day campaign but developments in recent weeks have allowed PAS candidate Dr Halimah Ali to claw back some ground, particularly among voters in the Bottom 40th percentile of wage earners (B40).
With living costs still an issue, the re-introduction of the SST on Sept 1 — even though it only replaces the repealed Goods and Services Tax (GST) — has been unpopular despite the government’s efforts to spare the B40 most of the tax burden.
For Halimey, it will be doubly frustrating as his campaign platform of urban development and the promise of improved infrastructure initially struck a chord with audiences, especially young workers and small business owners.
His time as a local councillor allowed him to keep his finger on the pulse of the constituency, making him the early favourite in the campaign.
However, the SST has quickly altered the mood, allowing Halimah back in the contest in which she is pledging to serve as a watchdog to the Selangor government.
While it remains to be seen how effective one more opposition lawmaker will be in a state assembly dominated by PH, her promise of wanting to be a check-and-balance to those in power combined with her matronly manner are beginning to win fence-sitters over.
Although the state assembly has no say in matters of federal taxation, her party’s opposition to the SST is also starting to be touted in coffee shops and hawker stalls as the effects of the tax start to be felt.
She has also been unscathed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s arrest of a former PAS representative.
While Umno pledged to support her campaign as reciprocation for Sungai Kandis, the Malay nationalist party has been largely absent although this is not likely to hurt her chances, seeing how it was trounced on May 9.
Halimah remains the underdog in the contest, but for PH and Halimey, the SST appears to have taken a bite out of their chances for a persuasive victory this Saturday.