Semenyih marks the end of PH’s honeymoon: Analysis

03 Mar 2019 / 19:24 H.

SEMENYIH: When PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan reiterated on Feb 17 that his party would not contest in Semenyih in favour of Barisan Nasional, the writing was already on the wall for Pakatan Harapan (PH).

The honeymoon was over for the coalition.

The reality was that the combined strength of PAS and BN, represented by Umno, was just too formidable for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) in the battle to win over the hearts and minds of the Malays-Muslims. It was PPBM’s candidate that would represent PH in the by-election.

Race and religion played a major role in determining the outcome and in a constituency where 68% of the electorate are Malay-Muslim, winning them over was all that was needed to take the seat.

Of course PH, with the government machinery and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad behind it, was no pushover. From the start, it was obvious that it was a battle between PH, represented by Muhammad Aiman Zainali, and Zakaria Hanafi of Umno.

The other two in the four-cornered fight — Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul of Parti Sosialis Malaysia and independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng were not expected to cause a ripple, much less present a challenge to Aiman and Zakaria. Aiman polled 17,866 votes almost 2,000 less than Hanafi’s 19,780. Nik Aziz and Kuan trailed by a mile, with fewer than 1,000 votes each.

But Zakaria had the upper hand. Umno and PAS have had decades to build up strong grassroots support, a luxury that PPBM does not.

Umno and PAS took the opportunity to play the race-and-religion card — alleging that under PH, power was now in the hands of non-Malays, and that the appointment of non-Malays as the Chief Justice, Attorney-General and Finance Minister was against Malay-Muslim interests.

It didn’t help PH that many of its pledges have not been fulfilled nine months after it was swept into power.

Political scientist Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said there were attempts to split Umno and PAS by portraying the Islamist party as “insincere”. To discredit PAS, PH campaigners banked on issues such as the RM1.4 million payment to Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and claims that it received money from Umno.

“In the end, the combined might of BN and PAS was hard to dismiss, never mind that PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang did not attend a mammoth rally in Semenyih,” Sivamurugan said.

According to former Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi, the Semenyih voters, who are mainly working class people, are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues, particularly the rising cost of living.

The division among parties within PH is also beginning to bite. Long-time political observer Rahmad Isahak pointed out that the rift between PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is taking a toll not only on the party but on PH as well.

PKR is the coalition’s biggest party and Anwar is slated to be the next prime minister.

Even as the dust settles in Semenyih, another battle is looming — this time in Rantau.

Acting Umno president Datuk Seri Mohamed Hasan won the seat unopposed in GE14 but the Special Election Court has ruled that the returning officer erred in barring PH candidate Dr S. Streram from filing his nomination papers.

The Election Commission has filed an appeal in the Federal Court to overturn the election court’s decision.

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