MELAKA, Nov 20 — The Melaka state election kicks off today, and all eyes will be on a political battle triggered by a rocky previous administration, which will be a taster of how the next general election (GE15) will likely play out.
With established coalitions Barisan Nasional (BN), Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) fielding candidates in all 28 state seats, the stakes to win Melaka are high.
Making the mix even more compelling are 22 Independent candidates, as well as candidates from newer entrants, such as Parti Bumiputra Perkasa Malaysia (Putra) and Parti Perikatan Indian Muslim Nasional (Iman).
With that, a total of 112 candidates will vie for the 28 seats up for grabs in the polls.
BN is backing Umno’s caretaker Melaka chief minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali to reprise his role, while PH has named its state chief and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) leader Adly Zahari as its chief minister candidate.
At the last-minute on Thursday, PN finally named Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin as its chief minister nominee.
Hot seats to watch for
However, the ‘hot’ state constituencies with multi-cornered contests between political heavyweights will garner the most attention.
Examples include Asahan, Tanjung Bidara, Lendu, Telok Mas and Pengkalan Batu, all of which feature big names in Melaka political circles.
Asahan is set to be the most riveting as former chief minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron, previously from Umno, will be contesting under the PH banner as a PKR member in a six-cornered fight.
The rural seat will see the controversial Idris go up against five other candidates: BN’s Fairul Nizam Roslan, Danesh Basil (PN) and independent candidates Mohd Noor Salleh, Azmar Abdul Hamid and Mohd Akhir Ayob.
As for Tanjung Bidara, this state seat is set to see a three-cornered fight between state Umno liaison committee chief Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh representing BN, PN’s Mas Ermieyati, who is both a federal lawmaker and a deputy minister, and PH’s Zainal Hassan.
The contest for this constituency, which is more well-known for its beaches and tourist spots, will centre on Ab Rauf and his former protégé Mas Ermieyati, and could possibly be a yardstick by which PN’s standing in Melaka is measured.
Lendu, another rural state constituency, also promises to be an engrossing three-way contest between Sulaiman representing BN, Major (R) Abdullah Mahadi (PN) and Mohamad Asri Ibrahim (PH).
The main question that will be answered today is whether Sulaiman can fend off his opponents from PN and PH, as he is also the BN incumbent there.
He needs a strong majority to ensure he does not face a similar crisis of confidence and trust from within his own party, a situation that supposedly led to the election being triggered in the first place.
For Telok Mas, another of PN’s prized candidates, former Paya Rumput assemblyman Datuk Mohd Rafiq Naizamohideen, will go up against Datuk Ashraf Mukhlis Minghat (PH), Datuk Abdul Razak Abdul Rahman (BN) and Muhammad Ariff Adly Mohammad (independent).
Similarly, a possible win for Mohd Rafiq, who is also the Melaka PN chief, in Telok Mas will measure the acceptance and popularity of PN in the state.
The last state constituency to keep an eye on would be the Pengkalan Batu state seat, where incumbent and political persona Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee is defending his seat as an Independent candidate in a five-cornered contest.
However, due to Norhizam’s approachable and quirky demeanour, many in the state believe that he has a higher chance than most of winning the seat.
Norhizam, a former DAP man prior to his defection to PN, and later as an Independent, will go up against four others, namely Mohd Azrudin Mat Idris (PN), Datuk Kalsom Nordin (BN), Muhamad Danish Zainudin (PH) and Dr Mohd Alwi Sari (Putra).
DAP, under PH, is also fielding its youngest candidate, 25-year-old Muhamad Danish, who has been the coordinator for the state seat since Norhizam’s defection last year.
Pakatan’s weak seats
Despite PH’s domination of urban seats in Melaka, the main Opposition coalition is said to have a weak grip on several seats that could prove problematic today.
One such seat is Gadek which PH’s DAP candidate won with a thin 307-vote majority in the 2018 general election (GE14).
This is followed by Durian Tunggal and Kelebang that was won by PH’s Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) and PKR with a 763-vote and 789-vote majority respectively in GE14.
Another state constituency that is seen as high stakes for PH is the Bemban seat.
Here, PH candidate Datuk Tey Kok Kiew is embroiled in a five-cornered contest with seasoned political opponents Datuk Ng Choon Koon (Independent), Yadzil Yaakub (PN), Datuk Koh Chin Han (BN) and Azmi Kamis (Independent).
Tey is seen as having a tough fight on his hands with Ng, who is a former Bemban assemblyman turned Independent, and Koh from BN.
Low voter turnout
A major concern for all involved is a low voter turnout due to the pandemic, and even possible political fatigue.
Concerns over the pandemic are clearly evident, following news of rising hospitalisations and Covid-19 cases in the state, prompting locals to consider not going out to vote.
Moreover, voters had also said they have other priorities, such as addressing pressing financial matters or restarting their business, especially after the country just exited a long lockdown that devastated the economy.
Of greater concern, however, is whether their vote will matter in light of the fact that the election was supposedly triggered as the last word in a popularity contest among a few politicians.
These factors have created a real cause of concern for PH, BN and PN, over what is expected to be intense competition for all state seats.
Over the past few weeks, the so-called campaign in the run-up to polling day was a challenge due to the implementation of the standard operating procedures (SOP) that bars traditional campaigning methods due to the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike previous elections, there has been a lack of large-scale political ceramahs to gauge public support for a particular party or coalition.
Apart from meet-and-greets and other small-scale social events, the bulk of campaigning has been relegated online.
However, its efficacy is untested as the prevailing problem is the lack of internet connectivity beyond urbanised Melaka city.
The Melaka election will also set the template of how future elections will be held in Malaysia as the country moves to the endemic phase, forcing political parties to adapt and conduct their campaigns in more creative ways.
However, as polling day dawns, a fight between the BN and PH coalitions looks likely, with PN playing third fiddle, mainly due to its lack of grassroots machinery, especially local volunteers.
Both the BN and PH coalitions, which governed the historical state in the last three years, are looking to strengthen their hold on power in Melaka, especially after the collapse of the previous government.
PH and BN are expected to secure anything from eight to 10 seats each, meaning the remaining 10-12 seats will decide the final outcome of the polls.
PN, on the other hand, is expected to secure anything from two to four seats at the most, with many of its candidates, including its chief minister choice Mas Ermieyati, acknowledging that they face an uphill battle.
Umno is contesting under BN in 20 seats, while its component partner, MCA, is standing in seven and MIC in one.
PN, anchored by Bersatu, which is led by former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and PAS, will contest all 28 seats. The latter is contesting eight seats.
The four-party PH — consisting of DAP, PKR, Amanah and Sabah-based Upko — is also contesting all seats. PKR is fielding candidates in 11 seats, followed by Amanah with nine and DAP with eight.
Melaka has 495,196 registered voters and the Election Commission (EC) had earlier predicted a 70 per cent turnout for polling day.