With the Johor state election set for 12th March, Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) seems to have taken a number of backsteps and is looking like a loser. Strategically for UMNO this election within one of their strongholds is very important to consolidate their electoral position. However, for PKR and Johor son, Muhyiddin Yassin and his Bersatu party, this election is more about survival and maintaining some semblance of electoral relevancy.
The current state of the assembly at dissolution on 22nd January was UMNO 14 seats, MIC 2 seats, Bersatu 11 seats, and PAS 1 seat, holding government with 28 seats. Pakatan consisted of DAP 14 seats, PKR 7 seats, and Amanah 6 seats, making up 27 seats.
Anwar has already irritated his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition partners DAP and Amanah with his decision to campaign under the PKR flag and not the PH flag. This is being symbolically interpreted as the break up of Pakatan. Some pundits liken this decision as having some undercurrents of arrogance, where PKR is testing the water to see how it can go alone electorally. PKR and the DAP have 25 years of political partnership, with DAP supporting Anwar during his darkest times.
With Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) reaching an arrangement on the sharing of constituencies with DAP and Amanah, ensuring there are no electoral clashes, to date no agreement has been reached with PKR.
Although there is still time for an electoral agreement between all opposition parties before nomination day on 26th February, the hustling and argument doesn’t look good for the opposition forces to show a united front against the government.
This is a time where UMNO, Bersatu and PAS are far from united and potentially weak electorally, if a strong and prudent opposition were the hustings united. This opportunity is likely to be completely wasted.
Maszlee Malik as PKR’s Johor MB candidate?
There is talk that former education minister Maszlee Malik would be nominated as PKR’s MB candidate. Maszlee is currently the federal member for Simpang Renggam in northern Johor, which he won under the Bersatu banner when Pakatan Harapan then led by Mahathir Mohamed defeated Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional government in 2018.
Maszlee re-joined PKR with reportedly 500 of his supporters last November. Anwar announced that Maszlee would be contesting the Layang Layang constituency, which falls within part of his Simpang Renggam federal constituency. In the 2018 state election, UMNO’s Onn Hafiz Bin Ghazi won the seat with a 364 vote majority over the PKR candidate Murugan A/L Muthu Samy.
The Vibes has reported multiple sources have confirmed that Maszlee will be PKR’s candidate for the position of chief minister, if the opposition wins a majority.
If PKR selects Maszlee Malik as chief minister candidate, this would end up being a total disaster. Maszlee’s tenure as education minister was very controversial. He was charged with reforming the education system by focusing on STEM, but instead set about on his own rogue agenda that even then prime minister Mahathir Mohamed had to put an end to through sacking him.
Maszlee Malik is religious and arguably has some Salafi sympathies. During his tenure as education minister, he appointed more than 35 similar people to 35 top university positions. Rather than diversifying education leadership, Maszlee selected people from the same theological base.
Maszlee’s recycling into any top political position will potentially bring religion into politics, based upon his track record. Consequently, PKR shouldn’t be seen as a party Islamizing government even more. Any announcement of Maszlee as chief minister candidate for PKR turns on a big red light over PKR’s policy platforms and what the party stands for. Maszlee’s poor performance as minister was a major cause of Pakatan’s unpopularity with the electorate, where 5 by-elections were lost.
Maszlee’s track record on corruption is also under question. While minister for education, Maszlee muzzled an investigation into alleged corruption over an RM1.0 billion project by instantly dismissing the chairman of the university board.
Although the recent allegations of corruption against Maszlee might be politically motivated, it would only make sense that if Maszlee did become chief minister, UMNO would do their best to persecute him to the point he wouldn’t be able to perform his duties.
There are undercurrents within the local grassroots membership in Johor of dissatisfaction over the consideration of Maszlee Malik, who appears to be dropped in by golden parachute without local consultation. Social media comments over the last couple of days are weighted against Maszlee, citing his poor performance as education minister as a major reason he shouldn’t be selected.
There is a consensus that PKR should have other talent available for consideration for the chief minister’s position. The possible selection of Maszlee according to some comments highlights how PKR has lost its ‘reformasi’ direction, and vision.
The word on the ground is that Pakatan Harapan along with Bersatu and PAS are going to all find it very difficult to hold onto many of their constituencies with an UMNO onslaught. If this is the case, then who will be the chief minister candidate for PKR or Pakatan is just a moot point. It is almost impossible to see how Maszlee could reverse the momentum of the UMNO momentum in Layang Layang where he is already notionally behind. Other PKR seats that may like be lost during the coming state election include, Pemanis, Bukit Naning, Semerah, and Tiram, leading to a near wipe out.
Maszlee will even find it very difficult to hold onto his federal seat of Simpang Renggam, which he won with a majority of 3,475 in 2018, in the next general election, given the current electoral environment. This means Maszlee will need to look for a career post politics.
As for PKR, this could be just like a small building in front of a tsunami. After the tsunami, the nature of the opposition is set for a major change. This could be without PKR playing a major role in the future.