The impact of Singapore on the Johor election
Explainer | In Johor election, is Malaysia’s Umno seeking stability or a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card for Najib?
Johor leader Hasni Mohammad has insisted the snap poll is needed for the state’s stability but analysts say the move is to bolster Umno which had won recent regional elections
They also argue a victory in Johor would give convicted ex-PM Najib an upper hand in the intraparty rivalry and the aftermath of a general election
Published: 2:00pm, 25 Jan, 2022
Most political analysts, who are largely unconvinced by Hasni’s rationale for triggering the polls, say the move – coming amid rising Covid-19 cases of the Omicron variant in Malaysia – is heavily connected to national-level political manoeuvrings as the country’s long-simmering political battle once again threatens to hit boiling point.
Out of the three other statewide polls held since September 2021, two contests – in Sabah and Melaka – were linked to the fierce battle for national power among Malaysia’s political camps, while the Sarawak election last December was held following the expiry of the state assembly’s mandate.
This time, the polls will have serious implications for the hugely influential Umno, where alliances are split between a camp backing Ismail Sabri and another that is behind the scandal-haunted ex-leader Najib Razak. The result of the vote could also impact whether, and when, the prime minister calls a general election.
Here are the key things to know about the latest twist in Malaysia’s political roller coaster ride.
Why call elections now?
Speculation has been rife that Hasni would trigger snap polls after the death of an assemblyman, Osman Sapian, in late December.
The demise of Osman, a former chief minister, meant the coalition Hasni led had a majority of just one seat in the 56-member state assembly. Hasni’s headaches were compounded by the rivalry within his coalition. His Umno has 14 seats, while the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) – the party of Ismail Sabri’s predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin – has 11 seats.
The fierce rivalry between the two parties, who champion Malay nationalism and admit only Malay-Muslims as full members, led to Muhyiddin’s ousting last August – just 17 months after he gained power following a complex political coup.
Both parties now support Prime Minister Ismail Sabri’s federal government, but their key members have openly sniped at each other and indicated they will not cooperate at the next polls. Muhyiddin last November warned the Johor administration could collapse “with the push of a button”.
“After Muhyiddin’s threat, and seeing their majority reduced to just one seat, it was time for Umno to dissolve the assembly,” said political observer Awang Azman Awang Pawi of the University of Malaya.
Francis Hutchinson, a long-time Malaysia watcher at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, was also of the view that Umno’s buoyancy following the Melaka vote was the key reason for the upcoming snap poll. “Johor is seen as even friendlier terrain, as Umno was born in Johor Bahru and has an unshakeable grip on the eastern half of the state,” the researcher noted in a commentary on Monday.
The Najib factor?
A common line of thinking among Umno’s opponents in recent days is that the Johor poll squarely has to do with the power struggle within the party.
Liew Chin Tong, a political strategist for the opposition Democratic Action Party, wrote in a commentary that Umno was split between a so-called “troika” comprising Najib, the current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his deputy Mohamad Hasan on one side, and another made up of ministers in Ismail Sabri’s cabinet.
The latter group, Liew suggested, was in favour of prolonging the premier’s now five-month tenure in office while Najib’s camp is seeking an early general election.
Going to the polls now rather later – after an internal party election due in November is held – would mean Ahmad Zahid will be able to pick candidates favouring his faction, which in turn would boost their clout in the aftermath of the national poll.
“To put it in the simplest terms, the Johor snap poll is just the first salvo for a snap general election, which will be Najib and Zahid’s ‘get-out-of-jail’ pass,” Liew wrote.
He is out on bail pending an appeal to the country’s highest court in that case.
Ahmad Zahid – Najib’s key lieutenant during his 2009-2018 stint as premier – is also facing dozens of criminal charges over unrelated corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust cases.
Despite being against the Johor election, Pakatan Harapan will field candidates in the polls and has said it hopes all non-government parties including the Pejuang party of elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad and the youth-centric Muda would contest under a unified umbrella.
The coalition had 27 seats in the just-dissolved assembly, and is expected to retain the urban constituencies in and around the state capital Johor Bahru, where it has fared well in recent elections.
Australia-based Malaysian politics watcher James Chin said all eyes will be on the “youth vote”. The Johor election is the first contest following the operationalisation of a recent constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Iseas’ Hutchinson suggested the younger voters could prove to be a wild card. “The recent lowering of the voting age means the participation of a large cohort of young first-time voters, many of whom have had their education and career prospects severely affected by the pandemic,” he wrote in the fulcrum.sg portal. “Which way they will swing is difficult to determine.”
Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022 03:27 PM MYT
BY ASHMAN ADAM
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — Despite having expanded to the peninsula, Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) will not be working with the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition for the coming Johor state election, its president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said today.
The Semporna MP said that Warisan — which started in Sabah — is focused on strengthening its base providing Malaysians an alternative to the current political parties, news portal The Vibes reported.
Shafie also said he had worked with parties on both sides of the political divide to improve Malaysia’s fortunes, but found it didn’t work.
“I have already worked with all of them. But when I did, while in Umno, the country’s situation turned bad.
“I had also worked with PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and DAP’s Lim Guan Eng and Lim Kit Siang.
“But now what is important is to strengthen my own house and, at the same time, provide Malaysians with a new political choice,” he was quoted saying.
Shafie added that he would announce Warisan’s decision on whether the party would contest at the Johor state election when he visits the southern peninsular state next month.
“I have instructed our machinery in Johor to assess the situation before a decision is made on the matter. There are already too many state elections. We already had Melaka and Johor, and we would not know which state will hold theirs next and at the same time the general election is also to be held soon.
“At the same time, Warisan members also feel that we should not stand and watch from the sidelines when these states hold their polls because if the federal election is called, Warisan needs assemblyman’s help,” he was quoted saying.