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M'sia opposition Pakatan Harapan confident about Johor support ahead of polls

SINGAPORE — The Malaysian opposition has gained ground in the southern state of Johor since the last general election, and expects to win a considerable amount of state assembly seats if polls are called this year, said Pakatan Harapan (PH) Chief Secretary Saifuddin Abdullah (picture) yesterday.

M'sia opposition Pakatan Harapan confident about Johor support ahead of polls

Pakatan Harapan Chief Secretary Saifuddin Abdullah. Photo: Malay Mail Online

SINGAPORE — The Malaysian opposition has gained ground in the southern state of Johor since the last general election, and expects to win a considerable amount of state assembly seats if polls are called this year, said Pakatan Harapan (PH) Chief Secretary Saifuddin Abdullah (picture) yesterday.

“Johor is definitely one of our front states for Pakatan Harapan. You can gauge this from the number of Johoreans attending our programmes, rallies, and meetings,” said Mr Saifuddin.

He said one of the main reasons for the stronger support shown by Johoreans is due to the establishment of Malay-based Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) last year, chaired by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The president of the new party is former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Muhyiddin is the major factor for the increase in support by the people,” Mr Saifuddin told TODAY after delivering a lecture at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute on how ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) has managed to stay in power.

Mr Muhyiddin, former deputy to Prime Minister Najib Razak was sacked from the Cabinet last year after he criticised the government’s handling of alleged financial irregularities in state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

He is popular in his traditional stronghold, Pagoh.

Mr Muhyiddin served as Johor’s chief minister from 1986 to 1995. Many Johoreans see him as the southern state’s pride among the country’s senior politicians.

During the last general election, held in 2013, the opposition won 18 out of 56 state seats in Johor, leaving the ruling coalition with 38 seats, two-thirds of the state legislative assembly.

The collaboration between the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat (PR) had enabled the opposition to triple its seat tally from just six seats won in the 2008 election.

PH was formed after PR was dissolved in 2015 as PAS and DAP fell out over the former’s push to implement hudud in Kelantan. The new alliance was formed between PKR, DAP and Amanah, a PAS splinter party.

Dr Mahathir’s PPBM works in partnership with PH.

Malaysia’s national polls are not due until next year but Mr Najib is expected to call for snap polls this year after battling the 1MDB issue, stamping out dissent in Umno and overcoming efforts by Dr Mahathir to remove him.

During his lecture yesterday, Mr Saifuddin — a former Umno leader and deputy federal minister — said Umno has managed to stay in power because of an unfair election system, politicising race and religion, a system of patronage within the party, as well as a culture of fear in the grassroots.

Another state where the opposition bloc expects to do well is in Kedah, Mr Saifuddin told TODAY. He claimed that this is largely due to Dr Mahathir and his son Mukhriz Mahathir.

“The father and son is a great team ... As far as getting the Malay voters and support in the state,” said Mr Saifuddin.

Following Mr Muhyiddin’s removal, Mr Mukhriz was also ousted as Kedah’s chief minister.

Asked if Dr Mahathir’s legacy as former prime minister and chairman of ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) would help the opposition to gain more semi-urban votes in the next general election, Mr Saifuddin said he believed that it would help “to open doors”.

“The real battleground is the rural areas,” he said. “PH and Pakatan Rakyat in the past found it difficult to make inroads into these areas. But with Mahathir around, we seem to be able to open these doors because people want to listen to him.”

He added that rural areas consist mostly of older voters, who know Dr Mahathir very well and would “hear him out”.

“That is why I think he is an important factor when it comes to rural Malay support,” he said.

But Mr Saifuddin stated that despite his belief that PH would perform well in both Johor and Kedah, this did not mean the opposition bloc would be able to wrest them from BN.

“I think we can do better at the state assembly for both states than in the federal Parliament (where lawmakers are elected separately from the state assemblymen) but, then again, it depends on how things will move in the next few months,” he said.

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