Perlis no longer Umno fortress, say analysts

Noor Azam Shairi Mohd Farhan Darwis

Analysts say Barisan Nasional dropping two key Umno figures in Perlis in the 15th general election has broken the party’s stronghold in the state. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 7, 2022.

PERLIS can no longer be considered a stronghold of Umno, following the internal turmoil caused by Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s decision to drop two of the state party’s main figures from contesting in this general election, analysts said. 

The situation has now allowed for PAS to possibly add another state to control through Perikatan Nasional (PN), becoming the fifth state the Islamist party has ever governed after Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, and at one time, Perak.

In the general election, BN dropped Shahidan Kassim and Zahidi Zainul Abidin from defending their Arau and Padang Besar parliamentary seats. There are three federal and 15 state seats in this tiny northern state.

Shahidan was quickly offered a chance by PAS to contest in Arau under the PN banner while Zahidi is running as an Independent candidate in the Padang Besar federal seat and the Titi Tinggi state seat.

Political analyst Dr Mazlan Ali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said dropping the two big Umno names would have an impact on BN.

“There will definitely be an impact. Shahidan and Zahidi are long-time leaders in Perlis. They have followers, so if they are not nominated by the party and they compete, it will definitely cause division among the supporters,” he said. 

“Also, those who do not agree with the Umno president’s actions will vote in protest,” he said. 

Perlis PN chairman Mohd Shukri Ramli recently told The Malaysian Insight that Shahidan had influence over the state because he was once a menteri besar between 1995 and 2008.

Mazlan said there was a possibility that PN could come out on top in Perlis but admitted that it was difficult to read and understand the loyalty of Umno members.

“It is difficult for us to predict because these Umno members are generally loyal to the party, unless we see when Anwar Ibrahim was fired (in 1998)... he took followers (out of the party),” he added. 

Mazlan also pointed to the success of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in winning the Kangar parliamentary seat in 2018 general election, which implied that the opposition had begun to break down Umno’s influence in Perlis.

In 2018, BN won two out of three parliamentary seats, and 10 out of 15 state seats in Perlis. However, all the state seats were won with narrow vote margins. 

Under the Padang Besar parliamentary constituency, for example, BN won the Titi Gantung state seat with only 142 votes, or 1.81% of the total votes. In Pauh, under Arau, BN also won by only 143 votes, or a 1.57% majority.

PH won three state seats, two of which were marginal while PAS won two seats, both with slim majorities. 

Based on past support patterns, Umno dominates Padang Besar, PKR is strong in Kangar while PAS has a relatively large and consistent influence in Arau. 

The Sanglang state seat under Arau, for example, has been in PAS hands since 1999, even though it survives with a slim majority every election.

Perikatan Nasional is targeting to win at least nine of the 15 state seats to form a strong government in Perlis in the coming election. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, November 7, 2022.

Reading Umno members’ mood

Meanwhile, Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar credited the state’s young Umno figure Fathul Bari Mat Jahya for trying to pacify party supporters who were angry with Shahidan’s dropping.

They shut down all service centres and took down Umno and BN flags in protest.

“He quickly ‘countered’ the commotion. He became a hero and went to see Shahidan’s operation centres and persuaded them to function again,” he said, recounting the information collected as a result of Ilham Centre team’s survey in the field. 

Hisommudin agreed that while there was a tendency among Shahidan supporters not to vote for Umno, the situation was still difficult to read. 

His side’s survey on the ground found that the tendency was high among those who had been assisted by the former menteri besar.

“We don’t know the exact number of these people. They have changed clothes, from BN to PN. 

“The only question for them is, will Shahidan join PAS? If he joins PAS, what will be their position? That is what they are not clear about,” he said. 

Hisommudin also said that BN and Umno’s die-hard voters in Perlis were reluctant to vote for other parties as they have never done that all this while.

He added that some voters said they have to think hard about voting for any other party apart from Umno, and would rather not vote at all.

“Also, these Umno voters generally have no problems with PAS but they do have an issue with Bersatu,” he said.

PN has set a target of winning at least nine of the 15 state seats to form a strong government in Perlis in the coming election.

The comfortable victory will make it easier for PN to fulfil its election promises to the people, said Perlis PN chairman Shukri, who is also the state PAS chairman.

PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin previously said the coalition would propose a menteri besar candidate from PAS if it succeeds in overthrowing BN in Perlis.

Perlis Bersatu leader Abu Bakar Hamzah said PAS has been around much longer than Bersatu in Perlis, and that the Islamist party has extensive experience in managing state affairs.

“We (Perlis Bersatu) regard PAS as our ‘brother’ and will support a PAS candidate as the menteri besar,” he said, as quoted by Bernama, recently.

PAS is contesting for nine state seats and two parliamentary seats – Arau and Padang Besar, while Bersatu is fielding candidates in six state seats and one parliamentary seat, Kangar. – November 7, 2022.

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