Pejuang lost, but the heat’s on PPBM, says analyst

In the Slim by-election on Saturday, Barisan Nasional trounced a candidate backed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

PETALING JAYA: The result of the Slim by-election last week spells trouble for PPBM, even though the candidate who lost was the person backed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pejuang, according to a Singapore-based political analyst.

Norshahril Saat, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said in a newspaper column that it was the ability of Umno and PAS to mobilise their grassroot members that contributed to Barisan Nasional’s massive victory, while PPBM remained a bystander.

On Saturday, BN candidate Mohd Zaidi Aziz, the local Umno division leader, polled 13,060 votes for a thumping 10,945 majority over independent candidate Amir Khusyairi Tanusi, a sharia lawyer backed by Pejuang.

“This is a strong indication that Umno does not need PPBM to win the next general election,” wrote Norshahril in an article in the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong.

“Recent developments show that Umno wants to regain its dominant role as a Malay nationalist party by saying that it wants to recover seats lost to PPBM in 2018,” the researcher said.

Norshahril said attention had been focused on how Pejuang would perform in Slim, as an indication of what the party might achieve in a snap general election.

Describing Amir as a “kamikaze” candidate, Norshahril said Pejuang had entered the race to test the waters and see how Malays would receive the party, and whether it should join PH in the event of a snap general election.

“Pejuang’s priority is to weaken PPBM’s support base by accepting defectors.” Its other motivation was to test how far it could go alone without Pakatan Harapan, and it got its answer, he said. Pejuang found it did need PH partners Amanah, PKR and DAP to help run its campaign.

Although the results were hailed as marking the “end of the Mahathir era”, Norshahril said the outcome actually suggested that PN, especially PPBM, is not on secure footing.

“It also proves that Umno has regained the trust of voters, especially Malays and that its collaboration with PAS has been successful”. Previous by-election results had reinforced the value of the Umno-PAS tie-up, and Umno would be more confident about regaining seats lost to PPBM at the 2018 elections and later through defections.

A snap general election would work towards Umno’s advantage, he said, unless former president Najib Razak and his successor Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were convicted of corruption and other charges.