JOHOR BAHRU: Thirteen days into the campaign for the Johor polls, the various parties contesting to form the state government, or win some seats, will make the final sprint today as campaigning ends at midnight.
One thing that has stood out about this election is how many of the parties, though divided, have somewhat rallied against Barisan Nasional (BN), pushing the narrative that voting for the coalition would be akin to backing the “court cluster”.
This “court cluster” refers to prominent Umno leaders including Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who are either on trial or have been convicted on charges such as criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering.
Despite their differences, Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Anwar Ibrahim, Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin and Pejuang chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad have touched on 1MDB or Najib on the campaign trail, and even traded barbs with the Pekan MP.
But that narrative, repeated in ceramahs and “casual” programmes attended by the opposition leaders, has not dampened the spirit of the BN leaders, with Zahid and Najib frequently coming to the state to campaign.
Najib, despite his conviction in the SRC International case, which he is appealing, has drawn crowds wherever he campaigned, even among the Chinese community.
Several Johor folks told FMT that the 1MDB scandal – one of the key factors that contributed to Pakatan Harapan’s win in 2018 – is no longer at the forefront of issues affecting Johoreans.
They are more concerned about urgent issues such as the rise in the cost of living and the need to generate more income.
“It’s probably just 50% relevant to me,” said Jamaluddin Md Nor, when asked if the narratives of the other parties regarding 1MDB resonated with him.
He said it is more important for the parties and their candidates to fulfill their election pledges, expressing disappointment with the PH administration’s 22 months in power.
Moy Chok Sam, 70, seemed unaware of the “court cluster” rhetoric, lamenting that the predicament of low-income earners like him persists regardless of which party forms the government.
All he wants, he said, is for a fair government that ensures that people are treated as equals.
Political analyst Azmi Hassan of Akademi Nusantara said he does not see the “court cluster strategy” bearing fruit in Johor, just as it had failed to stop a BN win in Melaka last November.
He told FMT the response Najib received wherever he went is proof of this, adding that even fence sitters are unlikely to bite on the narrative.
Azmi also said that BN’s menteri besar candidate, Hasni Mohammad, is one of the coalition’s main pull factors as he has the aura of a leader who would put Johor first, based on his constant push for the borders with Singapore to reopen.
He also said the 3,200 lots of land allocated for second-generation Felda settlers announced by Hasni, the caretaker menteri besar, last week would have a major impact as more than 20 state constituencies in Johor have Felda settlers.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid shared similar sentiments on the effectiveness of the “court cluster” attacks on BN’s support.
Fauzi said Hasni had notched a few achievements in his brief tenure leading the state, including the decision to allocate equal funding for all assemblymen.
“This is something which strikes a chord among Johoreans as a whole, because it is uniting instead of dividing. In trying times, where the country is beset with manifold problems, we need less divisive politics.”
But whether BN’s apparent support on the ground translates to votes is a different matter altogether. This will only be known tomorrow night after Johoreans go to the polls.