GE15: Hot seats a barometer for polls results, says analyst

How the coalitions and parties perform in these seats will indicate who forms the next Federal government.


November 17, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR – DURING the 14th General Election, one of the first results to emanate on polling night was from Sarawak. Reports began trickling in at about 7.30pm about Barisan Nasional’s stronghold seats falling.

The seats that Pakatan Harapan and independents were winning provided a barometer to what would happen later in the night. A tsunami had been unleashed, sweeping Pakatan Harapan into power.

Three days before Saturday’s polling, I went through reference seats with political analyst Bridget Welsh, who hosts the podcast “Bridget’s Kerusi Panas (hot seats) – Between The Lines”. Welsh has been discussing the hot seats in GE15 (15th General Election).

Welsh said it was interesting to see Parti Warisan’s performance in Sabah.

“It has a spirit which is going against Pakatan. It is an interesting barometer to see if voters are going to vote for Warisan, a local party, or in the perspective of Pakatan (a national coalition),” she said.

For example, take Penampang, she said. The voters in the constituency adjacent to Kota Kinabalu are torn between Darell Leiking, the incumbent from Warisan, and Datuk Ewon Benedick of Upko/Pakatan.

“Penampang is a test as it is a diverse, educated, semi-urban seat on what the voters want regarding the representation of Sabah. Do they want a local party or see themselves as part of the Pakatan opposition? Knowing that every seat counts, is the goal to check Perikatan Nasional and Umno or to be with Warisan?” she said.

Another bellwether seat for her in the state is Kota Belud. Isnaraisah Munirah Majilis of Warisan is defending her seat against former Kota Belud two-term MP of Umno/Barisan.

“It is how Warisan is coaching the contest – Umno versus Warisan struggle,” she said.

In neighbouring Sarawak, Welsh sees the Sibu fight as a gauge on whether the separatist movement has any traction on the national stage.

Welsh said Sibu, Stampin and Sarikei, which DAP won in GE14, are close fights.

She noted personality seats to watch include Julau, which Datuk Larry Sng won as an independent in GE14 and is defending as Parti Bangsa Malaysia president, and Saratok, which Datuk Ali Biju won in 2018 and is now contesting under the Perikatan logo.

The trend indicates support for Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

“He is making this a referendum on himself. My sense is that the dynamic is drawn from that of personality (in seats like Julau and Seratok) and the sheer power of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS, which Abang Johari is leading),” she said.

“The result of close seats which matter, like Julau, is an indicator of Abang Johari’s negotiation to form the (Federal) government.”

In Peninsular Malaysia, Welsh looks at Pahang from the perspective of PAS and Perikatan, and Pakatan, too. She said all five seats – Betong, Kuantan, Indera Mahkota, Raub and Temerloh, which Pakatan won in GE14, are competitive.

Take Temerloh, she said. “It depends on voter turnout, younger votes, and how much swing Perikatan will take from Umno.”

“The Umno candidate is not popular; the Amanah candidate is an outsider, and PAS is trying to win it back. It is a very close seat,” she said.

Welsh also said Pahang looks interesting with old friends (Muafakat Nasional partnership) coalescing with enemies (Umno/Barisan versus PAS/Perikatan).

For example, she said Maran is a seat where Umno dropped the incumbent, and he is now contesting under PAS.

Kedah has also caught Welsh’s attention.

She observes the state facing various issues related to racialised politics. A case in point is Amanah/Pakatan’s Datuk Mahfuz Omar, who is facing blowback in Pokok Sena because of such divisive tactics.

Pokok Sena is too close to call and Kedah has several such seats.

“Can Pakatan hold on to Kulim-Bandar Baharu and Sungai Petani? It is whether the mood (for Pakatan) continues, and do they need a boost?” she said.

Langkawi is also a trendsetter.

“My sense is (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Pejuang chairman) is not doing well there. It is about younger votes; he is 97 and had his chance. But he might still hold on even at his age,” she said.

“The big thing in Malaysian politics is that the Malays and Malaysians are choosing new options. They are going out of their particular boxes.”

Perak is a Malay battleground, youth contest, and multi-ethnic seats fight, according to Welsh.

“For me, the seats that I find most interesting are not the ones (Tambun) which everybody is focusing on,” she said.

“Tanjung Malim is interesting to see if the Malay votes will stay with Barisan Padang Rengas and the (Umno warlord and incumbent) Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz factor is also fascinating. Larut is equally interesting as (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia secretary-general) Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin thinks he might win, but I put it as a too-close-to-call seat,” she said.

Welsh observes that Johor has started slowly.

“The barometer will be in the north of the state in seats like Ledang and Muar to determine the strength of Perikatan. Both seats (which are held by Pakatan) are still too close to call,” she said.

In Negeri Sembilan, Welsh sees the power of Tok Mat – as Umno deputy president Datuk Mohamad Hasan is known – as a defining factor. He has often stepped in to solve Umno’s problems in the state, but how many seats will his influence translate to?

Melaka has more fire, believes Welsh.

“Alor Gajah and Hang Tuah are seats to watch. Hang Tuah is about young voters with Adam Adli, the PKR youth chief, contesting. While in Alor Gajah, former Melaka chief minister Adly Zahari is contesting. There is flooding there. It is interesting to see if national mood affects local dynamics,” she said.

While almost everybody is focused on Sungai Buloh in Selangor, Welsh looks at Sungai Besar, instead.

“It is an Umno seat in which the party is fielding a known (troublemaker). Will he be pushed out or win it?” she wonders.

How the coalitions and parties perform in these seats will indicate who forms the next Federal government.

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