PH’s double joy in Johor by-elections testament that the green wave is not inexorable after all

THE unity government’s by-election wins in the Pulai parliamentary seat and the state ward of Simpang Jeram indicate that Johor is a state where the Islamic wave spearheaded by PAS will sputter rather than sweep. As it has elsewhere in the country.

Having initially manifested itself in the 15th General Election (GE15) in November last year, the Islamic wave remained strong, leading Perikatan Nasional (PN) to impressive gains in the number of state seats it garnered in the Aug 12’s six state polls.

The country woke up to the reality that the wave of last November was not transient. Instead, it appeared poised to sweep the country, the peninsula at least.

However, yesterday’s (Sept 9) by-election results in Pulai and Simpang Jeram furnished evidence that Johor is famously impervious to PAS penetration.

While stumping for PN on the eve of polling, twice former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made a desperate plea to Malays to abandon UMNO.

From the results, it can be seen that the Malays of Johor which is UMNO’s birthplace declined to heed his call.

This was despite assumptions that UMNO Malays – not just Johorean ones – were uneasy over UMNO’s dalliance with DAP, a partner of the ruling unity government.

Dr Mahathir tried to exploit that uneasiness for PN’s advantage. Apparently, Johor Malays are not taking the bait. Neither they heed the call of PN’s chairman and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who was himself the former Johor menteri besar (MB) for nine years (1986-1995).

Sensible Johor Malays

Johor Malays have been cool towards Dr Mahathir from the late 1980s when they gave Tan Sri Shahrir Samad a by-election win in Johor Baru in defiance of then Prime Minister Mahathir.

That recalcitrance is not confined to political matters. Where religion is concerned, it shows itself in Johor Malays being immune to the blandishments of PAS.

When Tan Sri Hadi Awang cast aspersions on the quality of Islamic education in Johor not so long ago – purportedly giving that as the reason for PAS’ lacklustre electoral performances in the state – the Marang MP was given a ticking-off by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar for his temerity.

Though PN in which the Islamic party is the dominant member managed to reduce the majorities of the winning candidates from Amanah in the Pulai and Simpang Jeram by-elections, there are factors that make for ambiguous interpretation riding in the balance.

The rains that fell reduced the turnout and election fatigue on the part of voters also played a part. Sure, these factors must have affected both contending sides but in straits like these, incumbents usually draw the shorter end of the straw.

In the event, that brevity was not enough to capsise the candidates from Amanah. The decision of the Pulai and Simpang Jeram electorates ensures that there will be a welcome pause to the febrile campaigns along racial and religious lines that is the hallmark of PN.

Otherwise, citizens will be titillated and troubled by subversive ripples from Hadi about how PN victories in one parliamentary and one state seat portend the fall of a government. – Sept 10, 2023


Terence Netto is a journalist with 50 years in an occupation that demands resistance to fleeting impressions.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia

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