Commentary Politics

How BN lost its impregnable Johor fortress

GE14  was the swansong of many Johor BN leaders

GE14 was the swansong of many Johor BN leaders

Shahrum Sayuthi
Written by Shahrum Sayuthi

May 10 2018

BARISAN NASIONAL arguably suffered its most severe defeat of the 14th general election in Johor, considered as the birthplace of its main component party Umno exactly  72 years ago today.

While many political pundits had forecast a less stellar BN’s performance and some even considering the possibility of its defeat in Johor, none had ever expected the loss to be so devastating.

Johor had been Umno’s most impregnable fortress

As it turned out, BN only managed to win at eight of the 26 parliamentary constituencies, namely Parit Sulong, Ayer Hitam, Semberong, Mersing, Kota Tinggi, Pengerang, Tenggara and Pontian.

It had 20 of the parliamentary seats in Johor when Parliament was dissolved for GE14.

Worse still, BN lost the state government after Pakatan Harapan won 36 of the 56 state constituencies. It only managed to win 19 of the state seats while Pas won one.

BN has always regarded Johor as its bastion from the start of its rule six decades ago, controlling the state assembly by a two-thirds majority at every general election held.

To lose that impressive record in such a crushing defeat on Wednesday begs a look at how it could be possible in the first place.

Despite the optimistic pre-election forecast by members of the team set up by then Johor menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, indications of the defeat had actually been felt much earlier.

The writing was on the wall, as the cliche goes

Aside from the ferocious PH’s campaign at the national level, Khaled’s administration was also beset by various local issues which were slowly eroding support for BN in Johor right after the last general election in 2013.

From the start, Khaled’s hesitation to pursue some of the policies adopted by his predecessor Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman broke the continuity of what was seen as a good administration in Johor.

This then led many Johoreans to question the administration’s ability to run the state efficiently and with the right amount of integrity and transparency.

Khaled’s failure to handle what some observers described politely as interferences in administrative matters by the Johor palace was among the main grouses of many quarters in the state.

The handling of massive projects linked to the palace along the coast of Tebrau Straits was a sore point with a lot of Johoreans.

Projects such as the Forest City, developed by a major company from China, became a campaign material for PH with its chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad personally taking the lead in heaping criticisms on it.

Khalid’s administration was also rocked last year by a major corruption scandal which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of one of its senior executive council members.

Such  high level corruption case was unheard of previously in Johor where its successive BN administrations were always regarded as being the best in the country.

Other than the image of a weak state administration over the past five years, Johor BN also suffered from its lackluster preparations for the GE14.

Veterans of previous general elections in Johor often compared the preparations done by Khaled’s team and that of Ghani’s in 2013, with almost all being of the opinion that there was no way BN could have done better this time around.

Unlike Ghani, who personally visited the over 1,000 polling areas in the state to solve local issues and boost morale at grassroots level before the general election, Khaled merely visited the the 26 parliamentary areas at stake.

Khaled’s team had also failed to be on the ground to read the moods and note the grouses of the people during the run up to the election.

They grossly underestimated the danger posed by PH top man in Johor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin when he announced his candidacy for the Bukit Gambir state seat on top of defending his Pagoh parliamentary constituency. 

Nonetheless, the election veterans had not expected the crushing defeat suffered by Johor BN on Wednesday.

This was so because PH component parties, with the exception of DAP did not actually have proper election machinery in the state.

They were even having problems in fielding the right candidates for the right electoral seats.

Dejected Johor Umno members met after the election results lamented that the BN may not have lost so badly if the state’s party leadership had done a better job.

It was clear that after Wednesday’s GE14 results, Johor Umno and its BN allies will need to overhaul not only their teams but also their attitude in order to bounce back from the defeat.

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Shahrum Sayuthi

Shahrum Sayuthi