Sungai Bakap Polls – PKR Set To Lose Again As Chinese Voters Find Little Inspiration To Vote For Anwar’s Party

 After chickening out from Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election last month, Anwar Ibrahim has again decided to skip campaigning for the coming Sungai Bakap polls on July 6. This alone suggests that the prime minister’s political party – PKR (People’s Justice Party) – is set to be crushed by PAS Islamist party, who is defending the seat after the death of incumbent Nor Zamri Latiff due to stomach inflammation.


Used to be a traditional PKR stronghold, having snatched the state constituency seat in Penang from then-Barisan Nasional ruling government in 2008 and defended it for three consecutive national polls till 2023, the ethnic breakdown of Sungai Bakap’s electorate comprises 59.36% Malays, 22.54% Chinese and 17.39% Indian. In the 2023 Penang state election, PKR lost by 1,553-vote majority.


In comparison, the ethnic breakdown of Kuala Kubu Baharu consisted of 46% Malay, 30% Chinese and 18% Indian. Opposition Perikatan Nasional obviously can’t win this seat even if 100% Malays vote for it. But in Sungai Bakap, it had snatched the seat from Pakatan Harapan coalition member PKR with just 65% of Malay votes (as seen in the August 2023 state election).

Sungai Bakap

As Commander-in-Chief of Pakatan Harapan, Anwar dared not stepped his foot in Kuala Kubu Baharu last month, despite the fact that incumbent Democratic Action Party (DAP) had won with 4,119-vote majority in the Selangor state election (August 2023). If he was not even confident with ally DAP in defending Kuala Kubu, what more with his own party PKR in reclaiming Sungai Bakap?


In the Kuala Kubu Baharu, the premier was terrified of Chinese voters boycotting Pakatan Harapan under his leadership, the same way the community delivered a stunning defeat to the same coalition under the leadership of then-PM Mahathir Mohamad in the 2019 Tanjung Piai by-election. However, DAP won convincingly last month with a 3,869-vote majority in a lower turnout of 61.5%. 


The chicken out strategy was hatched so that the PM can evade from getting blamed if Pakatan Harapan were to lose the polls, but can claim credit if victorious. But the overly cautious tactic to shield Anwar from humiliation also means he would be seen as a coward who constantly hides when the going gets tough. In Kuala Kubu Baharu, he missed the chance to project himself as a tough leader.

PM Anwar Ibrahim - Speechless

Mr Anwar offers a hilarious excuse not to campaign for his own party – he is busy focusing on solving economic problems in addition to improving the people’s living standards. But if that’s true, he has more reason to go to the ground and listen to the hardship faced by the people there. After all, Sungai Bakap is also the “birthplace” of the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia.


It would be more humiliating if the prime minister fails to reclaim his “birthplace seat” after losing it during his premiership. He has reminded the voters to give his unity government an opportunity, and like the disgraced and corrupted Barisan Nasional government, voters were told – even threatened – that more infrastructure programmes and development could be implemented only if Pakatan Harapan wins.


However, bread-and-butter issues like diesel, eggs and the soaring cost of living are the three hot potatoes among the voters in Sungai Bakap, a semi-rural constituency on mainland Penang. The recent diesel subsidy cuts and increased utility rates are being used by Perikatan Nasional to hammer the Anwar administration. The 3-sen reduction in egg prices were being mocked as doing too little.

Chicken Eggs Shortage

The opposition did not need to try very hard to convince voters who to vote – PM Anwar has been bragging that the reforms to diesel subsidies could save the government RM4 billion every year. Yet, the government could only reduce three sen in egg prices – costing the government only RM100 million – as part of its promise to return to the people the RM4 billion savings from the diesel subsidy cuts.


The diesel subsidies cut saw the floated retail prices shot to RM3.35 per litre, an increase of about 55% from RM2.15. Even though the government said it will dish out monthly cash of RM200 to eligible owners of diesel vehicles, the handouts are insufficient for Sungai Bakap residents like fishmonger Sharifah Sofiah, who still needs to pay an extra RM120 a month for her Toyota Hilux to get fish from suppliers.


Sharifah said that although she supports Pakatan Harapan, she will not be going to vote this round. Likewise, vegetable trader Lau Mong Lang, who is also a long-time supporter of Pakatan, said it was hard to make ends meet after the government raised rates for electricity and water. After PM Anwar raised SST (sales and service tax) on electricity from 6% to 8%, the Penang state government also raised the water tariff by up to 204%.

Diesel Subsidies Cut - Price Increase After Floated

Frustrated, 44-year-old grocery store owner Halim Mat Yasin said he would swing his vote for the opposition candidate this time round. He wanted to teach Anwar government a lesson largely because he has lost about 90% of his income. Meanwhile, Mohammad Syafiq Soleehin, said that profit margins of his motorcycle repair shop have plunged after the cut in diesel subsidies has led to a 20% to 30% jump in the price of some auto spare parts.


Voters like Syafiq, whose income has been slashed by around one-third after escalating cost of motorcycle parts forced customers to delay maintenance, is one of the reasons why PM Anwar dares not go to the ground to meet the people of Sungai Bakap. Worse, hardcore Chinese supporters like vegetable trader Lau would most likely boycott the government by staying at home instead.


Pakatan Harapan is depending on enemy-turned-ally Barisan Nasional to deliver the crucial Malay votes. Unfortunately, if the previous Penang state election is any indication, the result showed most of UMNO-Barisan Nasional supporters had fled to the opposition camp. While fuel subsidies must be cut, the timing to do so isn’t now, especially when cost of living is rising due to inflation and weak local currency.

Pakatan Harapan - Perikatan Nasional - Flags

Fed up with skyrocketing prices, a survey shows that 7 out of 20 residents of Sungai Bakap who had voted for Pakatan Harapan have decided not to vote at all in July. Even though they were extremely disappointed with Anwar leadership, who spends more time in the internal affairs of Palestinian and Hamas than his own backyard, they were also disgusted with racist and extremist Perikatan Nasional.


As far as Chinese electorate is concerned, the predominantly pro-Perikatan Nasional Malay voter base in Sungai Bakap is already a lost cause. Even if 100% of the Chinese voters turns up in full force to vote for PKR, they can’t re-capture the seat. It would be a waste of time, not to mention the Chinese voters find very little inspiration to vote for Anwar’s party, resulting in lower turnout.


Crucially, unlike Kuala Kubu Baharu, the Chinese can afford to punish Anwar in Sungai Bakap because there is nothing to lose even if Pakatan Harapan candidate fails to win. The seat was already lost. You can’t something which does not belong to you in the first place. But it would certainly send a warning to Anwar if PKR were to lose by a bigger majority.

Chinese Voters - Election

So, why bother to vote at all? The rule of thumb suggests that it’s a futile attempt to win in a constituency with 60% Malays or more. If Anwar can’t attract young Malay voters despite his pro-Malay policy and Islamic credential, it’s even harder to win with higher taxes and subsidies cut. Besides, there was fear that the prime minister could be emboldened to cut more subsidies, or even hike more taxes, if PKR somehow reclaims the seat. - FinanceTwitter

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

Sungai Bakap Polls – PKR Set To Lose Again As Chinese Voters Find Little Inspiration To Vote For Anwar’s Party