TANJUNG PIAI, Johor: As polling day approaches for the Tanjung Piai by-election on Saturday (Nov 16), some residents in the southwest district of Johor are still uncertain about how they will vote.
On the campaign trail, the political parties have promised improved connectivity, help for fishermen, as well as better schools and sports facilities, among others.
While local issues do matter, those interviewed by CNA said that it is national issues that will decide how they vote.
The front-runners for the contest are Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate Mr Karmaine Sardini and Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Dr Wee Jeck Seng.
Other candidates are Ms Wendy Subramaniam from Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, Dr Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz of Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia as well as independent candidates Dr Ang Chuan Lock and Ms Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar.
READ: Ferry services between Singapore and Kukup to be launched if PH wins Tanjung Piai by-election: Muhyiddin
HIGH COST OF LIVING STILL AN ISSUE
A retiree who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, told CNA that he was still considering whether to vote for Dr Wee or Mr Karmaine.
The Kampung Ayer Masin resident said that he voted for PH candidate Dr Farid Md Rafik in the 2018 General Election, but is thinking of voting for the opposition instead in protest of PH’s performance as the federal government.
“When they campaigned in 2018, they pledged to reduce prices of goods by removing GST, and improve the economy. But instead, the prices of oil and basic goods have increased to the level during Najib’s time,” said Mr Ang.
“The prices of goods sold by (Tanjung Piai people), such as palm oil and fishes have also dropped, so many are struggling to make ends meet. We need to send a message that PH has not performed well,” he added.
BN candidate Dr Wee has played up this issue. He served as MP for Tanjung Piai constituency from 2008 until 2018, when he was ousted from his seat by Dr Md Farid.
Speaking in Mandarin in a speech in Pontian this week, he said PH deserves to know that unfulfilled promises and its inability to improve the economy for the people must be punished.
“Everyone hoped that when we had a new government, it would be a good government. It would help lessen the burden and difficulties faced by the people,” said Dr Wee.
“But when they encountered difficulties, they blamed the previous government, and say they have inherited problems.”
He added: “But it's been 18 months. They have swapped GST (Goods and Services Tax) with (the Sales and Services Tax) SST, and SST has increased the prices of goods. PH has not delivered on its promises.”
PH cabinet ministers who have campaigned in Tanjung Piai acknowledged that there have been missteps in governance. However, they also say people have nothing to gain by voting for BN in this by-election.
In a rally speech on Thursday (Nov 14), Finance Minister Mr Lim Guan Eng said: “Are we facing problems? Yes, most definitely, but we are trying to resolve them.”
“This is ongoing, but it takes time. Look at what we have announced in the 2020 Budget, we are implementing (policies that provide) employment for the people,” said the secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party.
CONCERN OVER MINORITIES RIGHTS
Although voters are unhappy with PH’s performance, some are hesitant to support BN due to the coalition’s recent alliance with Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). On Thursday night, PAS and BN leaders spoke at a massive rally at Pekan Nenas to drum up support for Dr Wee.
The rally attracted thousands of BN and PAS supporters, who were largely Malay Muslims.
Of the 50,000 voters in Tanjung Piai, around 40 per cent are Chinese.
Pekan Nenas resident, Ms Lee Yee Lian, told CNA that such scenes are “worrying” because she is concerned that BN would not be able to fight for the rights of the minorities in Malaysia, given its allliance with PAS.
“I want to support Dr Wee, but I think that my vote for him will be endorsing BN’s partnership with PAS and I’m not in favour of that,” said the 43-year-old.
However, BN leader Khairy Jamaluddin argued that if BN had only cared for the rights of the Malays, they would have put forth a Malay candidate in the first place.
He told a crowd of around 1,000 voters in Pontian that although United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had contemplated an ethnic Malay candidate for the by-election, he eventually chose Dr Wee because the coalition wants to fight for the rights of the minorities.
“He made a smart and good decision because we want … to ensure that an MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) candidate is capable of winning for Barisan Nasional. Why? Yes, UMNO and PAS are friends, but in UMNO, even though we have new friends, we should not forget our old friends MCA and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). They are our old friends for a long time,” he said.
VICTORY IN TANJUNG PIAI WILL BE STRONG PLATFORM FOR BN AND PAS IN NEXT ELECTION
Mr Khairy also noted that victory in Tanjung Piai will be a platform for BN and PAS to prepare for the next General Election.
“Tanjung Piai (residents) recognise that Barisan Nasional is not dead,” said Mr Khairy.
“The unity of PAS and UMNO is not complete without MCA and MIC. The Chinese and Indians are together with us to win the upcoming general election,” he added.
However, Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, who also campaigned in Tanjung Piai for Mr Karmine on Tuesday, maintained that PH is best placed to fight for the rights of the minorities. He also refuted suggestions from BN leaders that PH has compromised the special status of the Malays and Bumiputeras.
“The national language is still Malay, it hasn’t changed. Islam is the main religion, it hasn’t changed. The status of Malays and bumiputeras still exists … but after 62 years of independence, we must regard our Chinese and Indian as fellow countrymen and part of our family. Then the country will be peaceful,” he told voters at a rally in Pontian.
Mr Anwar, who is prime minister-in-waiting, added that the federal government will help the poor in Malaysia regardless of their race.
“(We want to) raise the economy. Once the economy improves, then we will distribute the wealth, if not the rich will become richer and poorer will get poorer. And Karmaine is part of this basis, he wants to improve the economy and distribute the wealth by helping the poor, regardless of their race,” he added.
However, Tanjung Piai resident at Kampung Terjun Rimba, Mr Muhammad Fikri Abu Bakar, told CNA that he is "suspicious" of both BN and PH and might vote for neither of them come Saturday.
"I have no idea who to vote for, because neither candidates seem to promise something that I can identify with as a Malaysian. They keep talking about race and privileges but what is really important is our economy. It's a bit sad that neither has concrete ideas on how to improve the economy," added the 27-year-old freelancer.