April 24, 2018
By Shahrum Sayuthi
POLITICAL analysts generally agree that the decider of the 14th general election (GE14) will hinge a lot on the outcome of the polls in Johor.
Long known to be a bastion of Barisan Nasional and the birthplace Umno, the southern state has now once again become the main target of the opposition parties.
The new main opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan knew, as did its predecessor, Pakatan Rakyat, that in order to deal BN the knock-out punch, it must defeat the ruling coalition in Johor.
All the indicators were that it is a doable task, especially based on the statistically sliding support for BN in the state over the past three general elections.
The opposition parties in Johor now have a total of six parliamentary and 19 state seats as compared to the one parliamentary and six state seats they won in 2008, as well as the single state seat won by Pas on technical ground in 2004.
However, the signals sent by Johor BN today indicated that it was unfazed by the threat.
The list of its candidates as announced by state BN chairman Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin could be read as reflective of the coalition’s confidence.
The fact that Khaled would be contesting his old Pasir Gudang parliamentary seat while also defending his current Permas state seat shows that Johor BN was courageous enough this time to even experiment on something it has not known to try before.
While rumor of Khaled possibly contesting both seats had been circulating for the past weeks, the announcement today still raised eyebrows.
While some in Kota Iskandar reasoned that the move was to ensure Pasir Gudang, which BN’s majority was sliced to just below 1,000 votes in 2013, does not fall to the opposition, others speculated that it may signal the end of Khaled’s tenure as the menteri besar (MB) after only just one term.
To the sceptics, Khaled had decided to also contest a parliamentary seat as a safety net in case he is indeed dropped as MB.
The speculation was lent a huge boost when Tanjung Piai Umno division chief Datuk Md Othman Yusoff was named as the BN candidate for the Kukup state seat, which he vacated in the last general election.
Md Othman, affectionately known as Tok Moy is the executive director of Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd, which is the developer of the mammoth Forest City project, largely known to be linked to the Johor palace.
Talks of Md Othman taking over from Khaled as MB was spreading like wildfire last night and it was said that he was only personally told about the confirmation of his candidacy just about midnight, hours later than the other Johor BN candidates.
Other than the possible change of leadership, Johor BN also appeared to be confident enough to try several quite unexpected selections in its candidates list.
Changes such as the shifting of incumbent Tenggara MP, Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique to Kota Tinggi surprised many.
Those familiar with the inner workings of Johor Umno however believed that Halimah was ensured of her candidacy due to her good relations with the Johor palace.
Her Tenggara parliament seat was left to Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, who is the Umno division chief there.
Another major surprise was the candidacy of Batu Pahat Umno Wanita chief Haliza Abdullah to contest the parliamentary seat there.
This causd quite a stir because many of the locals in the constituency have been expecting the very vocal Umno division chief there, Datuk Mohd Puad Zarkashi, who is also the Special Affairs Department director-general, to once again contest the seat which he lost in 2013.
By dropping Puad as a candidate, Johor BN appeared to send a signal that it prefers winnable candidates rather than those who were close to the party’s national leadership but lacked popularity at the grassroots level.
Nonetheless, it should also be noted that Haliza’s candidature was among the nine from Wanita Umno, which is a recognition for the party wing, known as the hardest working organisation within the party.
Johor BN also seemed to make it a point to appreciate those who worked hard for their party such as in the case of Kempas state seat candidate, Datuk Ramlee Bohani, who plays a crucial yet mostly unrewarded behind the scene role as the prime mover of Johor Umno war room since before the last general election in 2013.
Fielding candidates such as the tireless Ramlee, was rated by many party insiders as one of the best decisions by Johor Umno in its effort to stem the tide of pro-opposition’s influence, especially among the traditionally pro-BN Malay electorate in the state for this coming general election.
It should always be remembered that all bets for this general election in Johor rest on whether BN could hold on to the huge 83 per cent of Malays’ support it enjoyed in 2013.
The chances of opposition parties, chiefly those of Pakatan Harapan to spring an upset in the state will depend significantly on whether Johoreans, especially the Malays, could accept the possible post-GE14 scenerio hinted by the BN’s list of candidates announced today.