Sin Chew Daily
Mohd Sharim Md Zain, Umno's candidate in the just concluded Chini by-election, won the race with an impressive 12,650-vote majority, far ahead of his two opponents.
BN's victory in Chini has not come as a surprise at all, but the triumph will invariably boost the Umno-PAS Muafakat Nasional model of cooperation, giving them a huge lift in preparation for the next election war.
In the 2018 general elections, BN's Abu Bakar Harun clinched 10,027 votes in a three-cornered fight with candidates from PAS and PKR, with a 4,622-vote majority. In this by-election, BN candidate's votes jumped to 13,872 while the majority surged to 12,650, a very impressive gain indeed.
With PH absenting itself from the election, BN's candidate was confronted only by two independent candidates, allowing BN to win very easily in the absence of a strong competitor. One of the independent candidates Tengku Zainul Hisham (formerly PPBM's Pekan divisional vice chairman) had the full backing of former PM Mahathir, but he only managed to bag 1,222 votes with his deposit forfeited. It is still premature to conclude whether Mahathir's influence has fizzled out.
This was the first by-election after PN took over the federal administration earlier this year. The thumping victory shows that the local voters' voting inclination has not changed much despite a shift in the country's political situation. Chini is still very much an Umno stronghold, and with the backing of PAS, it just gets stronger and stronger.
Umno and PAS candidates collectively tallied 15,432 votes in the 2018 election, not much different from the 13,872 votes Mohd Sharim won last Saturday. We can conclude that Umno and PAS have successfully joined forces if we take into consideration the lower voter turnout in the by-election.
Notably, even though both Umno and PAS are components of the ruling Perikatan Nasional alliance, PN was not the chief player at this by-election. Muafakat Nasional was.
After winning the by-election, Umno president Ahmad Zahid said the Chini victory proved the Umno-PAS alliance had been effective in winning the approval of voters, and that the same would be used as the campaign model in the 15th general elections. This shows that the two parties have worked very closely to win the by-election.
Although such cooperation will benefit both parties in Malay-dominant constituencies, with PAS' role increasingly stronger, their cooperation will invariably raise concerns the Malay society will lean more decisively towards conservative Islamization.
In PAS-held Terengganu, for instance, male and female cinema patrons have to be seated separately, including non-Muslims.
The Chini by-election has significantly boosted the morale of Muafakat Nasional, giving them added confidence in facing the next general elections. PH++ may have huge problem fighting a powerful rival if they continue to fight among themselves over the issue of PM candidate.