PETALING JAYA: The death of deputy minister and Tanjung Piai MP Md Farid Md Rafik on Saturday means Malaysians will be seeing yet another by-election, the ninth since the historic general election last year.
Farid won the Johor federal seat by just 524 votes, beating his closest rival, MCA’s Wee Jeck Seng.
Wee had held the seats for two terms before his defeat.
But the election this time will be set against the backdrop of a new opposition landscape following the Umno-PAS charter this month, under which both Malay parties promised to work together in elections.
An analyst said both parties are likely to stay out of Tanjung Piai, a Malay-majority seat traditionally contested by MCA and once held by party president Ong Ka Ting.
Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Pawi also said the coming by-election offers an opportunity for Umno and PAS to prove their claim that their charter embraces the spirit of multiracialism.
“They are out to show that their cooperation is not racial, and that they will allow MCA to contest despite 90% of Chinese voters supporting Pakatan Harapan in the general election,” Awang Azman told FMT.
The by-election will also test how far Chinese voters are willing to accommodate the new charter, which has been criticised by DAP as a herald of race-based politics.
“If MCA still fails to wrest the seat, and Chinese voters still reject the party and Barisan Nasional, it is a signal for Umno or PAS to contest the seat in future,” he said.
Farid, 43, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity and social harmony, died of a heart attack on Saturday.
DAP in 2018 agreed to allow the Tanjung Piai seat to be contested by a PPBM candidate under the Pakatan Harapan seat allocation.
Awang Azman said the coming by-election – the second since PH celebrated its first anniversary in power in May – would also be used to gauge Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s popularity as prime minister.
He said while it was too early to tell if PH could defend its seat, the current political sentiments are different from the anti-BN euphoria prior to the 2018 election.
Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia does not believe PH can defend the seat, saying there is an increasing perception among Malay voters that PPBM is unable to defend Malay rights – a rallying cry of the Umno-PAS charter.
“This perception complicates PH’s chances. Further more, 52% of voters there are Malays. So if MCA wins the seat, it will depend much on the cooperation from Umno and PAS.”
But Azmi said just as the Tanjung Piau by-election could deliver a verdict on Mahathir, it would also show the Malay electorate’s acceptance of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as Umno chief.
Who PH will choose as its candidate in the face of the challenge is already a subject of speculation.
Malay politics observer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said Tanjung Piai PPBM division leader Karmaine Sardini could be a favourite.
In the general election last year, Karmaine lost in Pontian to Umno’s Ahmad Maslan by 833 votes.
“He took on a stronger candidate in order to allow Farid to contest in Tanjung Piai. His only drawback could be his age,” he said, adding that the candidate in Tanjung Piai is also expected to fill the vacant deputy minister’s post.