COMMENT | Strained partnerships affect Slim chances of both coalitions

Bridget Welsh

Modified 16 Aug 2020, 3:39 am

COMMENT | Malaysia’s second by-election campaign since the backdoor Muhyiddin Yassin Perikatan Nasional (PN) government took power five months ago has officially started, with polling day on Aug 29 before the eve of Merdeka.

A total of 23,094 voters will choose predominantly between Umno’s Felda settler Mohd Zaidi Aziz, 43, and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pejuang candidate, syariah lawyer Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi, 38. There is a third candidate, former school teacher Santharasekaran Subramaniam, 45, who will run as an independent.

Zaidi is a local and has played a role in promoting the Felda community, while Khusyairi comes from a prominent religious family and hails from Teluk Intan. He is seen to be connected to the seat through his wife, who works in the local hospital.

On the surface, the contest does not matter – it will not affect the outcome of the Perak state government, as defections and elite dealing have given the PN Perak government the numbers it needs to hold onto the majority (for now).

Yet, a closer look suggests that there is more going on than meets the eye. As with the July Chini by-election that strengthened the hand of Najib Abdul Razak in Umno, the results in Slim will shape Malay politics and ricochet across the evolving and strained relations within both the Pakatan Harapan and PN coalitions.

While most think this is a test for Mahathir and his new party, in reality, this contest is more about Umno and how it is adjusting after the Najib conviction.

I have long believed that Perak is a bellwether of national sentiment, with its rich and tumultuous political history. While Slim is one of the three state seats in the traditionally MCA parliamentary seat of Tanjong Malim that has long favoured Barisan Nasional (BN), this changed in GE14 when PKR’s vice-president Chang Lih Kang captured the seat.

This time around, the outcome in the Malay-majority Slim will matter – although as is often the case in Malay politics, developments behind the scenes, as opposed to those easier seen, may be more...

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