By Shahrum Sayuthi
Nov 15, 2017
THERE should be no denying that Johor will once again be the most important battleground in the coming 14th general election (GE14).
It was so during the last polls in 2013 when the then opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat made huge inroads into the once Barisan Nasional’s fortress state.
BN lost in five of the 26 parliamentary constituencies and 18 of the 56 state constituencies in Johor that year in contrast to the single parliamentary constituency and six state seats won by the opposition parties in the 2008 general election.
The new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan has made no secret that Johor will be its main target in the coming general election, scheduled by the latest in August next year.
Long known as a BN stronghold and Umno’s birthplace, Johor is arguably the state which is most in danger of sliding into the Pakatan’s fold in the next polls considering the apparently rapid decline of support for the establishment there over the past two general elections.
The contest in 2013 was so closely fought in Johor that the state produced six of the 25 parliamentary seats won by BN with less than 2,000 majority. The others are in Selangor (3), Sabah (3), Perak (3), Kedah (2), Federal Territory (2), Kelantan (2), Pahang (2), Sarawak (1), Perlis (1).
Those won by such a slim majority in Johor are Pasir Gudang (935), Ledang (1,967), Tebrau (1,767), Muar (1,646), Segamat (1,217) and Labis (353).
In 2008, BN had won in Pasir Gudang by 17,281 votes, Ledang (7,617), Tebrau (14,658), Muar (4,661), Segamat (2,991) and Labis (4,094).
The slide was even more significant if the results of the general election in 2004 were to be taken into consideration. BN had that year convincingly won in Pasir Gudang by 31,121 votes, Ledang (21,671), Tebrau (26,011), Muar (13,416), Segamat (7,806) and Labis (10,729).
The trend had been similar in most parts of Johor, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, which made up the most of parliamentary constituencies in the state.
For instance, Tan Sri Shahrir Samad won his Johor Baru constituency in 2004 by 46,792 votes, but it went down to 25,349 in 2008, and even further to 10,495 in 2013. Similarly, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed’s majority in neighbouring Pulai had also went down over the past three general elections from 34,926 to 20,449 and drastically to just 3,326.
The slide of BN’s support in the last general election was even more glaring given the majority won by the opposition parties in Gelang Patah, which is 14,752; Kluang (7,359), Kulai (13,450), Batu Pahat (1,524) and Bakri (5,067).
In 2008, BN won in Gelang Patah by a majority of 8,851; Kluang (3,781), Kulai (11,744), Batu Pahat (12,968) and only lost Bakri by 722 votes. BN convincingly won all parliamentary seats in Johor in 2004.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that BN is still supreme in several rural constituencies with outright Malay majority, mostly in the eastern region of Johor.
The ruling coalition, represented by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, won in the rural constituency of Semberong by 10,931 majority in 2013, which is just a slight drop from the 11,570 in 2008.
BN even increased its majority in 2013 at similar constituencies such as Mersing where it won by 15,747, an increase from 13,763 in 2008; Tenggara by 17,169 from 14,049; and Kota Tinggi by 24,574 from 18,961.
The pattern confirms the validity of an argument that despite its setback in Johor, BN, or to be more exact Umno, still commands the loyalty of most Johorean Malays, especially those in the rural areas.
It was estimated that up to 83 per cent of Malay voters in Johor voted for BN in 2013, thus preventing the state from falling to the opposition parties as what happened to Selangor, which has almost similar electoral demographics.
In the last general election, Malays roughly made up about 55 per cent of the electorates in Johor, as compared to about 35 per cent Chinese and the rest made up of those from other races.
It should also be noted that it was DAP that won 13 of the 18 state seats of the opposition parties in Johor in 2013. All in Chinese majority constituencies.
Therefore, it is highly credible to argue that the failure of opposition parties to break the BN’s Malay vote bank in Johor was the primary reason they failed to capture the state in the last general election.
However, whether such a high degree of loyalty towards Umno among the majority of Johorean Malays still persists for the coming GE14 is still to be concretely ascertained by any quarter.
Pakatan Harapan is clearly hoping that it will do the job right for the coming GE14.
The latest developments in Johor indicated that the opposition coalition is banking hard on the possibility that the Malay political ground there has shifted following the split within Umno, which led to the formation of Pribumi Bersatu led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Former Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is now the new party’s president is clearly leading the opposition’s charge in the state despite his new party being the most junior in the opposition coalition.
The once Umno strongman and menteri besar had of late been chairing Pakatan Harapan meetings in Johor, indicating that he is in charge of the crucial task of splitting the Malay votes in the state.
It would be foolish for Johor Umno to assume that despite his grassroots support being mostly limited to his constituency in Pagoh, Muhyiddin’s leadership of the opposition does not pose a real threat to its Malay support base.
Based on the results of the last general election, Johor BN as a whole could be in serious danger if Muhyiddin and his Pakatan Harapan machinery manage to reduce the Malay support for the ruling coalition by even just 15 per cent from that in 2013, especially in the state’s marginal constituencies where Malays make up less than 60 per cent of the voters.
However, thus far the BN and Umno leadership in Kota Iskandar seemed unperturbed by this prospect of Pakatan Harapan winning over a chunk of their all important Malay support base in the coming general election.
Signs from the camp of Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin appeared optimistic that efforts to arrest the decline of support for BN and Umno, particularly among Johorean Malays had been successful.
Khaled and his team had initiated several programmes specifically catering to that purpose such as Pelan Suara Hati Johor, Muafakat Johor, Taman Perbadanan Islam, Johor Islami, Inkubator Usahawan Melayu, preservation of Malay villages in urban areas, assistance for local Malay-based non-governmental organisations and special financial assistance for Malay students.
Other initiatives to ensure the betterment of Malay community at the grassroots level were also said to be carried out continuously since the last general election by the Khaled’s administration and feedback from Kota Iskandar indicated that such efforts were highly appreciated by the target groups.