Malaysia elections: Opposition shoots at high turnout to change outcome

PEKAN NANAS, Johor – On a muggy, overcast Sunday, Malaysian opposition candidate Lim Wei Jiet went “fishing” for support.

Less than a week before Election Day on Nov. 19 in Malaysia’s 15th general election, the co-founder of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) went to each of the 100 participants in a fishing contest in Pekan Nanas, a Malay-majority rural area, to pitch himself as a candidate to introduce for Tanjung Piai.

To cast his net far, Mr. Lim must also encourage Malaysians living abroad to return home to vote.

Mr Lim, who faces a three-way battle, said the opposition is relying on bigger crowds to travel to their hometowns to vote to counter the pool of hardcore Barisan Nasional (BN) voters in Johor.

“We’re trying to reach out through social media (and the press) to get Malaysians in Singapore to invest enough in this election to vote,” said Mr Lim, a 31-year-old lawyer.

In June, Malaysian newspaper The Sun reported that 900,000 Malaysians work in Singapore and around 300,000 commute daily. The Malay Mail reported on November 8 that 1.86 million Malaysians live abroad.

Like the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Muda belongs to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. In GE 14 in 2018, PH achieved a simple majority in Parliament to form the next federal government. Consisting of DAP, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah, PH won 113 seats against BN’s 79. But the coalition collapsed in 2020 when 11 MPs from PKR announced their resignation from the party and PH.

Mr Shazwan Zdainal Abidin, a DAP candidate for Pontian, said that when he visits homes there, he urges parents to encourage their children to return to the polls.

“As you know, 46 percent (of Pontian residents) are between 15 and 40 years old,” said Mr Shazwan, 38. “But if you look around you don’t see young people here because many have gone to Johor Baru and Singapore (for better employment opportunities).”

Like Mr. Lim, he is counting on the approximately 6.2 million new voters – aged 18 to 21 – who have been added to the electoral rolls, taking the number of voters in this election to over 21 million.

But for some Malaysians, it may not be as easy as boarding a bus home, Mr Lim said. “Transportation costs are an issue,” he added. “But the more worrying aspect is voter apathy. Some may not feel invested enough or have given up.”

Kuala Lumpur resident Joanna Leseh will not return to Sabah to vote. The 34-year-old fitness trainer said: “I thought about going back but the plane ticket was just too expensive. It is not easy with the pandemic as the cost of living has increased.”

She noted that a return flight on AirAsia costs around RM600 (S$176), while the fare on Malaysia Airlines is higher.

Ms Leseh added that voting by registered mail is only an option for expatriate Malaysians such as Mr Muhammad Syahir Abdul Jamil.

Mr Syahir, 33, an operations coordinator for a logistics company in Singapore, said he would vote Negeri Sembilan in his home state but could not return home due to work and his daughter’s kindergarten degree.

“Having the option of postal voting helps Malaysians abroad to keep voting and be responsible citizens,” he added.

A worker at a gas station in Choa Chu Kang said he would not accompany his friends, who are all from Ipoh and work in Singapore, on their drive home.

The staff, who gave his name only as Mr Pal, 31, said: “The 560km ride home to Perak on my small motorbike will be tiring and arduous. Also, I couldn’t get a few days off from my employer for the election.”

In Malaysia, media reports indicated that demand for domestic travel has skyrocketed and tickets are partially sold out. But there are free bus services jointly organized by NGOs Sayangi Kinrara, KLSCAH-CRC and SKLHA-Youth departing from Puchong on November 18. These buses take passengers to Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan, Alor Setar, Kota Bharu and some parts of Johor like Yong Peng, Johor Baru and Batu Pahat.

On busonlineticket.com, which sells tickets for travel between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, seats appeared to be only three-quarters booked after November 16. Prices range from $30 to $48.

Johor DAP leader Liew Chin Tong gives the bigger picture, saying PH’s strategy focuses on swing seats and younger voters. These are parliamentary seats that are semi-urban, multiracial constituencies with a Malay majority.

In the most recent elections in 2018, PH won 18 out of 26 parliamentary seats in Johor, up from just five in 2013. However, in the state elections in March 2022, BN won 40 out of 56 seats.

“Younger voters are not (partisan) affiliated,” Mr Liew said. “So if we can convince them that this is the most important election they have to vote in, chances are those of them who come to vote will vote for us.”

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