Is Johor Umno too scared to take risks?

Ilham Centre director Mohamad Hisomuddin Bakar says Umno must remember that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity in Johor is only between 31% and 33%.

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has dismissed Johor Umno’s list of parliamentary candidates as uninspiring, saying it shows an unwillingness to take risks.

Speaking to FMT, Ilham Centre director Mohamad Hisomuddin Bakar said Umno’s decision to stick mainly with the candidates who contested in 2013 indicated that it regarded Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) call for change as a threat.

“From our surveys on the ground, we found that Umno’s best bet is to leverage on personality politics,” he said. “Due to this, the party is unable to trust new faces to do the job.

“It is worried that the new faces do not have enough experience and have not done enough work on the ground for constituents to know who they are.”

PH sees Johor, often referred to as an Umno fortress, as a frontline state in its push towards Putrajaya.

While the opposition alliance has reshuffled its candidates for the state and decided to field new faces in parliamentary constituencies, Umno’s list is populated by veterans, except for Halizah Abdullah, who is contesting in Batu Pahat where she serves as Wanita Umno chief.

Umno lost Batu Pahat to PKR in 2013, when it fielded Mohd Puad Zarkashi, who was then the incumbent.

The other Umno candidates for parliament seats in Johor are either incumbents or veterans who have been moved around to contest in constituencies that are new to them.

Hisomuddin said Umno probably thought it was minimising its risks by fielding familiar faces against a determined opposition.

He said the strategy had disadvantages, and cited two of these, both involving deputy ministers.

He noted that Ahmad Maslan, the deputy minister of international trade and industry, would be defending his Pontian seat and that Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the deputy home minister, would be defending Pulai.

“Ahmad Maslan has support only from the Malays,” he said, “and he can win only if the voting pattern remains the same as it was in GE13. But Pontian can fall if the desire for change is strongly felt among the constituents.

“As for Nur Jazlan, he is known as someone who is always speaking up for the prime minister. He, too, is not safe if the desire for change is strong.”

Hisomuddin said Umno should be mindful that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity in Johor was only between 31% and 33%.

“Candidates who are seen as Najib’s defenders will suffer if younger voters return to Johor and decide to teach a lesson to those within Umno who are seen as liabilities.”

Hisomuddin also gave his assessment of PPBM’s chances, saying the party was safe from the risk of outright rejection despite its newness.

“PH has managed to stir up sentiments for change strongly enough to allow component parties to hide behind it,” he said. “It has managed to convince voters that they won’t be voting for a particular party, but voting for change. Because of this, whatever problems PPBM may have will not be glaring.”

Among the 15 incumbents who will defend Umno’s seats are Felda chairman Shahrir Abdul Samad (Johor Bahru), Johor BN deputy chairman Abdul Latiff Ahmad (Mersing), Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi (Sri Gading), Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said (Pengerang), Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Razali Ibrahim (Muar), Johor Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin (Pasir Gudang) and Hamim Samuri (Ledang).

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