How are candidates in Sg Bakap faring?

The first week of campaigning in the Sungai Bakap by-election is shaping up to be an evenly placed match between Pakatan Harapan candidate Joohari Ariffin and his opponent Abidin Ismail from Perikatan Nasional.

Both candidates seem to be adopting similar approaches to woo voters, and their respective campaign strategies also use similar methods.

Among the common methods used to meet and mingle with the people include visits to the mosques after prayers, visiting polling centres, and carrying out walkabouts at morning markets or pasar malam.

These are in addition to attending ceramah sessions which take place at night.

The controversy surrounding the educational credentials of Abidin, which has been played up by Harapan-BN supporters, does not seem to faze the Nibong Tebal PAS chief.

The former aide to deceased incumbent assemblyperson Nor Zamri Latiff received a warm welcome in his campaign trail - so much so that he has been dubbed the “people’s candidate.”

PN candidate Abidin Ismail (left) and Harapan’s Joohari Ariffin greet each other on the campaign trail

Although Abidin at first seemed rather clumsy, rigid and nervous when facing the voters, a week of campaigning seemed to have done him good in the department.

In fact, Abidin now boldly fields questions from the media, and clearly “explains” the controversy surrounding his credentials.

One shortcoming is that Abidin’s campaign team does not provide much room for the media to interact with the candidate, in a comfortable and sufficient manner.

This could be part of the PAS-PN strategy to minimise the candidate’s interaction with the media, possibly to prevent a candidate from issuing unwarranted statements that could backfire on the campaign.

Keeping up with image

On Harapan’s side, Joohari, who’s known by his moniker cikgu (teacher), stylishly carries the image throughout his campaigning.

The former director of the Aminudin Baki Institute (northern chapter) seems to be awkward in transitioning into his role as an aspiring politician.

In the initial days of campaigning, Joohari sported an awkward gap and rigidity when interacting with voters.

He only warmed up when he saw a familiar face or a former student.

However, Joohari has a more media-friendly approach. The only setback was when he peppered many of the answers to questions posed with “This is off the record.”

With a week remaining for voting day, Joohari too seems to have bucked up in his level of confidence when asking for voters’ support.

Day-to-day issues

On the campaign stage, PN largely plays up on issues plaguing the coalition government to demonise the latter and plead for votes.

Among the favourite topics played up are the cost of living, the diesel subsidy rationalisation, local issues, as well as the Penang government administration.

There have been times when PN leaders’ enthusiasm to attack Harapan has spectacularly backfired on them, such as when PAS Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man spoke about filling up diesel in a motorcycle when talking about the subsidy rationalisation issue.

Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin also claimed that the floating of sugar prices would cause an increase in teh tarik prices when sugar is not necessarily a primary ingredient of the beloved local beverage.

Often, PN leaders are seen as desperate to demonise the opposition, and they end up spouting remarks that are not based on facts.

The government machinery, on the other hand, has its hands full deflecting or answering issues thrown by the PN camp.

The campaign has also largely centred on promoting Joohari’s credentials, as an attempt to explain to voters choosing him as a representative would benefit Sungai Bakap.

Still 50-50

With the campaign period approaching its last mile, it still looks uncertain who will win the Sungai Bakap state seat, come July 6.

Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional leaders sharing a light moment on the Sungai Bakap by-election campaign trail

There is not much that can be read from the voters, as those who are not involved in campaigning, treat both candidates equally well on the campaign trail.

This is apparent when both Joohari and Abidin bump into each other at the same venue. Voters they approach merely reply to their requests to vote with “God willing”, “Ya” or “We will vote.”

What’s certain is that Harapan-BN is eager to win back votes from Umno members or supporters who voted for PN in the last state election.

In the remaining few days, “big shots” from both the coalitions are expected to descend onto ground zero to vie for support.

Both sides have to amp up their efforts to ensure their loyal voters vote for their candidates, as well as to ensure the support of voters who are still undecided. - Mkini

N FAIZAL GHAZALI is member of the Malaysiakini team.

How are candidates in Sg Bakap faring?