PETALING JAYA, Sept 1: Two analysts say Barisan Nasional’s big win in the Slim by-election on Saturday was proof that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his new party Pejuang cannot go far without joining Pakatan Harapan.
Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya said the by-election result was telling of Mahathir’s waning popularity, while Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said the Pejuang by-election candidate obtained only a third of the votes obtained by PH in 2018.
Awang Azman said Mahathir was once very popular because of his support for Anwar Ibrahim to take over as prime minister, but his popularity took a dive when he rejected Anwar’s candidacy as prime minister.
Many PH supporters, in turn, rejected Mahathir out of anger and disappointment. “If Pejuang already feels stuck, then it has to concede with PH’s policy and stand. Without PH, Mahathir and Pejuang cannot go far,” he said.
“If they join PH, but cannot agree on basic matters such as Anwar’s candidacy, then Mahathir and Pejuang will be considered to only be splitting up PH. So PH will have to reject both Mahathir and Pejuang.”
Should PH choose to reject Mahathir and his party, it could be “game over” for the party, Awang Azman said.
Pejuang would need to get out of Mahathir’s shadow if the party really wanted to make political inroads, which could be done by giving younger leaders more room to voice their views and to determine the party’s direction.
Azmi Hassan said BN’s huge majority in the by-election was helped by the Muafakat Nasional alliance of Umno and PAS, while the Pejuang candidate only obtained about a third of the votes that PH garnered in 2018.
He said this was a point for Mahathir to ponder, adding that PH leaders not going all out to campaign for the Pejuang-endorsed candidate was probably one of the major reasons for the dismal showing.
“I do think Pejuang needs to be with PH, and not just be an independent party that’s friendly to PH, since apparently this didn’t work in Slim.
“Being independent of PH would be to acquire sympathy votes from the Malays, the main objective of Pejuang. But the by-election result clearly demonstrates that this strategy has failed, just as how PPBM failed against Umno in the 2018 general election,” he said.
Pejuang cannot remain independent. It needs non-Malay support. Joining PH would almost guarantee them the votes of DAP and PKR supporters, Azmi said.
In the Slim by-election, BN candidate Mohd Zaidi Aziz was elected the new assemblyman, garnering 13,060 votes for a thumping majority of 10,945 over Mahathir-endorsed independent candidate Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi, who polled 2,115.
In the 2018 elections, BN retained the seat by a 2,183 majority.