In Johor polls, Malaysian electorate’s youngest bloc to vote for first time

Iskandar Zulkarnain and Nisha David
2022.03.10
Kuala Lumpur
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In Johor polls, Malaysian electorate’s youngest bloc to vote for first time A motorist passes by flags of various parties contesting the Johor state elections, in Muar, Johor, March 2, 2022.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysians aged 18 to 20 will vote for the first time ever this weekend, as Johor residents go to the polls to choose state assembly members in a contest that analysts say will likely keep the country’s oldest political coalition in power.

The 18- to 20-year-olds represent only 6.92 percent of Johor’s registered electorate, so they won’t sway the result of Saturday’s election, analysts said. The UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition has an edge in its stronghold state because of an anticipated split in votes due to a fractured opposition, they said.

Despite the euphoria of people under age 21 getting to cast ballots, the total percentage of under-25 voters in Johor is only 17 percent, said Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, an academic at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

“They are important, of course, but they alone won’t affect the overall outcomes,” he told BenarNews.

And the youth vote, too, will be divided among the various parties, Mohd. Azizuddin Mohd. Sani, a political analyst and professor at University Utara Malaysia, predicted.

“I suspect all parties can get an equal number of votes from this group,” he told BenarNews.

That means not everyone will vote for the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance or MUDA – an acronym that literally means “young.” The youth-based party is contesting elections for the first time and is led by Johor-born Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

MUDA is vying for seven seats in the state assembly, in an alliance with the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, which had handed the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party its first defeat in 61 years, in a historic election in 2018.

A total of 239 candidates are running for 56 seats in the state assembly of Johor, Malaysia’s third most populous state.

UMNO, the country’s oldest party, was born in Johor. It controlled the state assembly but wanted to hold elections to make the government more stable, former Johor Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad had claimed, after the death of a supporting lawmaker had reduced UMNO’s majority to only one seat.

UMNO seen as having edge

Analysts see the incumbent UMNO coming out ahead in its stronghold because a divided opposition has meant multi-cornered fights in several seats, which means the party’s diehard supporters will make all the difference to the Barisan coalition it leads.

This time around, analyst Mohd Azizuddin cited the example of a fractured opposition split between the Warisan party and Bersatu, the party headed by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

“These parties used to be part of an opposition coalition …. But now they are contesting against each other while Barisan has strong support from its hardcore voters,” he said.

“The more divided the opposition parties … it may provide an advantage for Barisan but there are at least six to eight seats considered as gray areas that are difficult to predict. My conservative assessment is Barisan winning by a simple majority.”

Political analyst Mazlan Ali concurred.

He said UMNO would be banking on its voters in rural areas and among lower-income groups.

“Pakatan Harapan, MUDA and Pejuang [former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s party] may capture a number of seats in urban areas and racially mixed seats,” the political analyst and senior lecturer at the Malaysian Technology University told BenarNews.

But overall UMNO and Barisan have an edge, he said.

Johor had been UMNO’s stronghold for decades before it fell to Pakatan Harapan in the 2018 state election and as it lost power at the federal level.

But Pakatan now “no longer seems fresh or even united,” according to an analysis by Francis E. Hutchinson and Kevin Zhang, published by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore think-tank.

“In contrast to 2018, Pakatan Harapan is looking less cohesive and less appealing to voters. A drop in turnout or the loss of vote share to new parties could see PH lose an important number of seats,” the analysis said.

Barisan “has exceptionally strong chances” of doing far better this time, the analysis’ authors said.

“Should all the winds be in its favor and BN attains a two-thirds majority, pressure for early national elections will be well-nigh impossible to resist,” their analysis said.

“However, should the coalition net above thirty seats but not secure a two-thirds majority, life in Johor will revert to its pre-election and COVID-afflicted state. There will be little excitement or justification for national elections soon after.”

Some younger Johor voters desperately want change, though.

“I do not want seasoned and corrupt leaders,” Priscilla Tan, 25 and a recent graduate, told BenarNews. “Unfortunately many voters prefer to continue supporting BN but not me.”

Mashita Raja Mohamad, 35, hoped to see more young candidates being elected to represent the younger generation.

“It doesn’t matter which party they are with, but most importantly they will not be jumping over to the other parties after winning the seat,” she told BenarNews.

Meanwhile V. Navanithan Valayutham, a retiree, was hopeful.

“I am looking forward to young and vibrant leaders leading the state. I really adore MUDA leaders, but I know it’s hard for them to win it,” he told BenarNews.

“But it’s not wrong for us to hope for the best.”

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