The bets are on for Perikatan Nasional in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah



15 Jul 2023 12:17pm
Photo from Azmin Ali FB
Photo from Azmin Ali FB

Election fever has arrived again. State elections are approximately one month away, and nomination day is quickly approaching.

Only a handful of states will participate, and if we are to believe the narrative of a referendum, the 9,773,571 eligible voters will provide a snapshot of how Malaysians evaluate the Unity Government’s performance.

As most political scientists would tell you, we cannot foretell the future. As people who study and observe Malaysian politics, we can only make educated guesses, but when it comes to humans, there are always uncertainties.

A month from now, the prevailing sentiment is that the status quo will prevail in most states, if not all. This indicates that the incumbent state governments would likely continue to govern for approximately the next five years.

Nonetheless, it is anticipated that the number of seats gained by each incumbent will change, possibly because of the incumbency disadvantage in developing democracies.

The idea is that being in office creates challenges and hurdles for re-election such as voter discontent with policy failures and opponents highlighting the incumbent’s shortcomings. More intriguing than who will win the overall state is the different rate of seat movements within each state.

Today, I will focus on the states currently governed by PN.

Let's begin with Kelantan, which, according to most experts, will be easily won by PN.

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In Kelantan, where BN previously held six parliamentary seats, PN won every seat in last year's parliamentary election. It is fair to assume that the seven BN state legislators in Kelantan will scramble to prevent further losses of support to PN. PN has multiple reasons to anticipate a significant victory in Kelantan.

First, the people of Kelantan have a strong connection to the land and a unique identity as Kelantanese that is distinct from the rest of Malaysia. Pas is a major component of this identity.

Second, it is well known that the BN machinery in Kelantan is relatively weak, with the patronage system still reigning supreme compared to the devoted support of the Pas grassroots. PH and the Unity Government, unfortunately, have been unable to counter the PN narrative in Kelantan due to their inability to penetrate and comprehend the actual needs of the people (hint: talking about water only goes so far).

In Terengganu, PN similarly swept the state's parliamentary seats, capturing two from the opposition party in the 2022 elections. Previously, during the height of the anti-BN and anti-Najib historic 2018 elections, Pas wrested control of the Terengganu state legislative assembly away from BN.

Terengganu differs from Kelantan in that the state has been under BN control for decades, with the exception of Hadi Awang's brief tenure as Menteri Besar from 1999 to 2004. Therefore, Pas is neither synonymous with the state nor the people, allowing for a potential return to BN. Comparing the GDP growth rates between 2017 and 2022, Terengganu had a growth rate of 9.8 per cent compared to Kelantan's 14.4 per cent with much room for improvement.

This might allow the Unity Government–BN most likely–to win at least a few seats. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the general elections of 2022, people may vote based on sentiment, and given Terengganu's relative conservatism, it would not be surprising if PN wins the forthcoming state election as well.

Kedah is the last remaining state that PN must defend.

Similar to Terengganu, Kedah's state administration shifted from BN to Pas in 2008, then back to BN in 2013, before falling to Pakatan Harapan in 2018 for just two years before being overthrown as part of the Langkah Sheraton. Since 2020, PN has controlled the state with a simple majority of 20 out of 36 seats. It can be argued that Kedah is in dire need of a fresh mandate by the people (and not through political machinations).

Due to the pragmatism of the Kedah electors, who chose based on outcome rather than party loyalty, most pundits are expecting a good fight among parties in Kedah. Likewise, political parties are acutely aware of this reality. We can assume that is why our prime minister chose Kedah for the initial Raya celebration before expanding to other states.

On the other hand, the current acting Menteri Besar may also be aware of his precarious position, which explains his increasingly populist stance, such as his demand for the Kulim Airport, his claim that Penang belongs to Kedah (thus risking a constitutional crisis), and his repeated calls on the possibility to overthrow the federal government.

According to a student of mine who happens to come from the state known as the Rice Bowl of Malaysia, "Sanusi has played a significant role in perpetuating himself as the protector of Kedahan."

Moreover, based on the results of the recent parliamentary election, there was a significant shift from PH to PN in Kedah. The query most people have asked is whether this phenomenon is temporary or more permanent. A

fter being warned of the "dangers" of a PH administration, it is not surprising for conservative Malays in Kedah to choose PN over PH. However, all of the warnings about girls donning skirts to school and the absence of the azan have been debunked. Now, how will they vote?

Overall, I continue to believe that the three PN states will maintain the status quo. The campaigns will probably concentrate in Terengganu, and particularly in Kedah.

Given the inability of PH to genuinely penetrate these states, the waning support for BN, and the popularity of the Kedah Menteri Besar, it is highly likely that PN will continue to rule in these three states. But there is no certainty.

The new electors who participated in the 2022 elections may have developed new political ideas and opinions following allegations of corruption and mismanagement by PN leaders. Nevertheless, nine months may not be sufficient to alter voter preferences.

Syaza Shukri, PhD, is an associate professor and the current Head at the Department of Political Science, IIUM.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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