Malacca polls a replica of Sabah elections?

OVER a year ago, we were treated to a spectacle of political intrigue that could well have been the culmination of the Sheraton Move when the Sabah government fell dramatically with 13 Sabah state assemblymen from Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) deciding to jump ship and throw their support behind former Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.


In turn, Warisan president and then chief minister Shafie Apdal took the decisive step and pre-emptive strike by requesting that Sabah governor Juhar Mahiruddin dissolve the Sabah state assembly immediately, thus triggering the Sabah elections on September 26, 2020.

Slightly more than a year later, we now have the Malacca elections that was precipitated because the governor Mohd Ali Rustam acquiesced to the advice of the caretaker government to dissolve the state assembly.

Although there was no dissolution of the state assembly when two Pakatan Harapan (PH) assemblymen – DAP’s Norhizam Hassan Baktee and PKR’s Muhammad Jailani Khamis shifted to Perikatan Nasional (PN) in March last year, the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led Malacca state government did not last long.

Following the four state assemblymen – Umno’s Idris Haron and Nor Azman Hassan, Bersatu’s Noor Effandi Ahmad and (now) independent Norhizam – withdrawing their support for Chief Minister Sulaiman Md Ali, the Malacca state assembly dissolved on October 4, with polling day called on November 20.

Multi-corner contests

Despite there being no nine-cornered fights as is “customary” in Sabah elections including the one last year, most Malacca constituencies will still face three-cornered contests.

Out of the 28 state seats, the following are expected to have the respective multi-cornered contests:

- 11 seats will experience three-cornered fights

- 9 seats will experience four-cornered fights

- 5 seats will experience five-cornered fights, and

- 3 seats will experience six-cornered fights.

A total of 112 candidates will contest in the elections.

Minor parties such as Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra) and Parti Perikatan India Muslim Nasional (Iman) will only contest five and one seats, respectively.

There will be up to 22 independents throwing their hats into the ring as well.

Intriguingly, as with the Sabah elections last year, BN and PN will still slug it out against each other in Malacca. However, instead of clashing only in a proportion of state seats (17 out of 60 state seats during the 2020 Sabah elections), BN and PN candidates will collide all the way (despite being partners in government – at the federal level).

Out of the 28 seats from BN, 20 candidates are from Umno, seven from the MCA and one from MIC.

In contrast, PN will contest 15 seats from Bersatu, eight from PAS and five from Gerakan.

For PH, PKR will field candidates in 11 seats, followed by nine from Amanah and eight from DAP.

In addition, all the three political coalitions are fielding new faces below the age of 40 – 12 from PN, 10 from PH and four from BN.

Covid-19 restrictions

However, unlike in the Sabah elections, political parties and candidates for the upcoming polls in Malacca are not allowed to organise any election-related gatherings, including house-to-house visits, walkabouts and ceramah as part of the Election Commission (EC)’s standard operating procedure (SOP).

Only three campaigners in a single team are allowed to go from house-to-house distributing campaign pamphlets without face-to-face interactions.

Therefore, strict Covid-19 related SOP leave political parties and candidates with little room to “manoeuvre”. They only could maximise the deployment of social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Youtube to reach out to their voters.

BN and DAP volunteers drive trucks and lorries equipped with digital screens and loudspeakers around urban and rural Malacca to make campaign announcements.

Even though the EC allows candidates and campaigners to put up buntings and banners before kickstarting their official campaigns from last Monday (November 8), the desire for change that was palpable during the 14th General Election (GE14) had dissipated either due to fatigue or disillusionment.

Bread and butter

Like many Sabahans, Malaccans appear to be more concerned about bread and butter issues such as cost of living, employment and income over who will form the next state government.

As both Malacca and Sabah are highly dependent on the tourism industry to generate state revenue, the on-and-off inter-state travel ban and continuous closure of international borders for over two years have forced many businesses to shutter temporarily or permanently.

Such a phenomenon is reflected particularly in the city centre of Kota Kinabalu and the popular Jonker Street in Malacca. The shutters were down for most of the sea and land tour agencies, and some even displayed signs that the shop lots were available for rent.

The drastic fall in domestic tourists in both states between 2019 and 2020 has been accompanied by an increase in the absolute poverty rates of Malacca and Sabah of 2.2 and 5.8 percentage points in 2020, respectively.

During the previous GE14 and 2020 Sabah state elections, Umno secured almost half (13 out of 28) of the Malacca state seats and around 44% (14 out of 32) of the Sabah state seats.

On the other hand, Bersatu won one-third (2 out of 6) of the Malacca state seats when contesting under the PH banner during GE14 in 2018. Despite Bersatu and Umno fighting each other in some state seats, Bersatu won more than half (11 out of 19) during the Sabah elections in 2020. 

If the Umno-led BN coalition and Bersatu-led PN coalition plans to form the Malacca state government together after the election, both have to win at least 15 state seats. 

As for PH, top performing DAP still has to rely on its coalition partners PKR and Amanah to win at least seven more seats in Malacca.

During GE14 in 2018, DAP managed to win all 8 Malacca state seats it contested in. DAP also managed to win 6 out of 7 Sabah state seats during the 2020 Sabah elections. 

Hot issues

Notwithstanding, at the end of the day, it depends on how the coalition blocs and independent candidates run their online campaigns.

The electoral participants will have to navigate through the landmine of hot issues and political fodder of the day such as the Malacca Waterfront Economic Zone. What is touted to be a gamechanger by the incumbent (Umno-BN) – that would transform the coastline and even skyline of state – is opposed by the fishing community for loss of catch and environmental issues due to the land reclamation works.

PN has pledged a thorough and comprehensive review of the mega-project should it come into power.

PH’s erstwhile chief minister candidate Adly Zahari has also promised to do the same – by giving special attention to all reclamation and sea embankment projects (as was done under his administration during which the latter were halted).

Turnout crucial

Voter turnout will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Malacca state elections.

For example, the tide could turn against PH if not enough outstation voters return to vote. Or if many urban voters shy away from the ballot box.

If the coalition blocs and independent candidates could motivate more voters to come out to vote through online campaigns, they could create history not only for the Malacca state election.

Such a new way of organising and conducting elections during pandemic times also could be applied to the upcoming Sarawak state elections and 15th General Election (GE15) in the future.  – November 17, 2021.

*Amanda Yeo is research analyst at EMIR Research.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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