Johor savours landmark election result as opposition takes control

Johor savours landmark election result as opposition takes control

The Malaysian state’s residents look forward to being governed by the opposition for the first time in history - and say they will ensure their elected representatives are held to account.

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Pakatan Harapan flags hang above Barisan Nasional ones on a street in Johor Bahru, a day after the incumbent lost control of the state for the first time. (Photo: Justin Ong)

JOHOR BAHRU: For the past few weeks, the minute she has stepped out of her house, Lela has been greeted by a sea of blue, red, white, yellow and green. Barisan Nasional (BN) and United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) flags have been put up everywhere around her government-funded public housing estate - dotting the buildings floor by floor, hanging off any surface and decorating the BN branch office at her void deck.

“I live in a BN kampong. All my neighbours are BN supporters,” the 28-year-old laughed. “They know I’m a Pakatan supporter, and they cold-shouldered me ... Now, it’s my time to get back at them.”

As she spoke, behind her a mammoth banner on the side of a housing block loomed large, displaying the image of Khaled Nordin, Johor’s chief minister up until a few hours before. The incumbent since 2013 was one of several casualties in a momentous Pakatan Harapan victory in Johor at Malaysia’s 14th general election on May 9.

Led by elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition alliance conquered the traditional BN fortress - and UMNO birthplace - by seizing 36 out of 56 state seats. The rest of the country followed suit, with Pakatan winning a majority of federal seats to be able to form a new government.

Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has always been governed by BN. The same goes for Johor, and at a press conference on Thursday (May 10), a solemn Khaled said he hoped the new representatives would be prepared to see to the state’s continued progress.

“We accept the decision of the voters because we believe in democracy, and we will ensure there will be a fair, good transition to the next government,” he added.

Khaled was unexpectedly beaten to his Permas state seat by Pakatan’s Che Zakaria Salleh, who garnered 8,746 more votes. He was also soundly upset in his Pasir Gudang federal seat by almost 25,000 votes.

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A giant poster of Khaled Nordin, chief minister of Johor from 2013 to 2018, in a Johor Bahru housing estate (Photo: Justin Ong)

“I was surprised by all the margins of victory, but I wasn’t surprised Pakatan won. This is the people’s tsunami, coming out to protest against the misery of daily life,” said Che Zakaria, echoing an earlier cry by Mahathir for large turnouts at the ballot boxes.


One of these voters was middle-aged Sabariah, who mans a fried chicken food stall outside Che Zakaria’s office in Johor Bahru.

“We just wanted to get rid of the guy on top. He cannot solve our problems with the cost of living,” she said. “Pakatan promised to abolish my monthly permit of RM80 for my food stall. That’s why I didn’t pay the latest permit, I was hoping they would win.”

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Pakatan Harapan campaign vehicles and paraphernalia outside the house of Che Zakaria Salleh, a victorious candidate in the Johor state seat of Permas (Photo: Justin Ong)

“This is the first time I’ve crossed anything other than BN,” said Sabariah, referring to the voting slip. “I’m very excited about the future.”

Other Johor Bahru residents Channel NewsAsia spoke to were just as enthusiastic, with some saying they would also be watching the new government closely.  

“We will make them accountable for their pledges and actions,” said Hadi and Suzy, a married couple in their 30s.

“The result wasn’t a surprise to us. The people want a new beginning. We love UMNO, but we’re disappointed with what’s been happening in recent years.”

They added: “The well-being of the people should come first, and when there’s wealth, it should be shared more evenly.”

Lela, too, said it was the bread-and-butter issues - from the imposition of a Goods and Services Tax (GST) to rising prices of cooking oil and petrol - which hit hardest for her.

“What we want is simple - to at least make life a bit better,” she commented.

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Children at a playground in the Desa Melayu government public housing estate in Johor Bahru (Photo: Justin Ong)

Close by, her three children scampered around the playground with their neighbours, while Lela bought her meat and vegetables from a mini-wet market set up by other residents in the same estate - the one she’d dubbed a BN kampong.

“Let the people have power,” said the elderly grocer Sameun Hassan, when asked for his thoughts on the election results. Next to him his wife, Noraza Ismail, chipped in to add: “Just follow the will of the people.”

“Now Pakatan must ensure they keep to their campaign promises, and give aid to the people,” she said.

“Malaysia has progressed, and the people have progressed as well. Of course, having had the same party govern us for 60 years, the result was a surprise … But we all want a better future.”

Additional reporting by Chan Luo Er