PETALING JAYA: A relatively uneventful two-week campaign period came to a close at midnight but as voters go to the polls in six states today, their collective verdict is likely to keep the political buzz going for weeks to come.
The elections are to choose members of the six legislative assemblies and thus determine which party will be in power in Selangor, Kedah, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan and Terengganu for the next five years.
However, the polls are also viewed as a referendum by proxy of the Anwar Ibrahim-led federal government, formed by an alliance of Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional, former fierce rivals turned partners, in coalition with East Malaysian parties.
The results of the state polls will show how well the people accept the PH-BN alliance, which came about after no single party won a parliamentary majority after the 2022 general election.
The long-term future of Anwar’s unity government could hang in the balance.
“If the status quo remains, then Anwar can say that the (almost) 10 million voters accept the unity federal government,” political analyst Azmi Hassan of Akademi Nusantara told FMT.
However, if the status quo is not maintained, then PN will use their victory as “ammunition” to claim that they should be the ones in power in Putrajaya.
The topic was a consistent theme in the polls, with coalition leaders like PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang saying that some MPs in the unity government were just waiting for PN to win the Aug 12 polls before throwing in their support.
Hadi had also claimed that a PN victory in all six states would lead to a change in the federal government.
However, Ramkarpal Singh of DAP shot down this claim, saying the anti-hopping law, which was enforced last year, would prevent MPs from jumping ship.
Although the polls are to elect members of the state assemblies, very few local issues made headlines, with the exception of Kedah and Selangor.
In Kedah the rare earth elements issue saw caretaker menteri besar Sanusi Nor embroiled in controversy over his alleged links to illegal mining.
In Selangor, claims were made against the state government over the RM700 million river-widening project known as the Selangor Maritime Gateway and the much-contested Petaling Jaya Dispersal Link project.
However, Sanusi managed to grab the headlines as the controversies quickly evolved into clashes of personalities and personal attacks between Sanusi and his rivals in PH.
Despite the publicity, Azmi said that Sanusi’s popularity was limited to Kedah and his antics could backfire, especially with fence-sitters who see through his failures to develop the state, even with its close proximity to Penang.
The polls also provide a platform for Perikatan Nasional to prove the “green wave” of GE15, in which PAS won the most number of seats of any single party is not a flash in the pan.
Azmi said that a good showing by PN would support the claim by Bersatu deputy president Ahmad Faizal Azumu that the “marriage” between Bersatu and PAS was “solid”, a claim contested by Amanah president Mohamad Sabu and former Bersatu Supreme Council member Faiz Na’aman.
Faiz, announcing his departure from Bersatu, had claimed that the party was not given due respect by “the strongest component in PN”, a reference to PAS, which will have the lion’s share of seats in the Aug 12 polls.
However, Azmi said if PN performs badly, then “PAS will blame Bersatu and vice versa, and they both will blame poor Gerakan”.
Muda on the precipice
Observers say the youth party Muda may be wiped out at the polls, which could lead to questions over the party’s future, especially if their candidates lose their election deposits. The party may also need to rethink its strategy and prospective alliances with other parties, after having been critical of Pakatan Harapan.
If Muda suffers defeats as is expected, “the clear signal is that they just cannot go (at it) alone. They need another big party, either PH or PN. So that’s the lesson that Muda or (its president) Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman will have to live with,” Azmi said.
The stakes are high for all parties involved to show that they are indeed backed by the people. The returns from the ballot boxes will show who had the most or least votes – but the real winners and losers won’t be known from tonight’s results. It’s what happens after that matters.