Discontent over living cost, PH-BN alliance could fuel opposition gains in Penang

GEORGE TOWN, Penang – Making his rounds at a pasar malam in his constituency of Seberang Jaya in mainland Penang on Sunday, state election candidate Johari Kassim was greeted politely but with little enthusiasm by shoppers and traders alike.

Mr Johari, 62, hails from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which has teamed up with former foe Barisan Nasional (BN) in Malaysia’s so-called unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

While Penang is considered a bastion state for PH, voter discontent over bread-and-butter issues as well as the PH-BN alliance could create opportunities for main rival Perikatan Nasional (PN) to gain ground at the polls on Aug 12.

A shop assistant at the night market, Mr Mohd Yazid Ahmad, 24, said Datuk Seri Anwar’s administration had failed to bring down goods and services costs.

“A plate of chicken rice is now RM7, compared to RM5 a year before. The government said inflation had declined, but I don’t feel it,” he said, adding he was leaning towards voting for PN.

He is not an outlier, judging by the warm response PN candidate Izhar Shah Arif Shah received on his walkabout at the market just 20 minutes after his rival Mr Johari arrived.

Some hugged the 30-year-old and many told him they would vote for him as he greeted people, took selfies, and tickled babies and children.

Some Chinese shoppers were also impressed after he urged them – in Mandarin – to cast their votes for him at the state election.

“He’s my choice,” said drinks trader Zubaidah Othman, 36. “We have known him for some time; he has always been there to help us.”

The Penang state election is one of six nationwide that will largely pit allies PH and Umno-led BN against the opposition alliance PN, which counts Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as its key component parties.

The other five state elections on Aug 12 will be held in Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan.

PN is looking to make further inroads in Penang, after wresting some parliamentary wards from PH at the November 2022 general election.

Seberang Jaya is one of the three state seats under the Permatang Pauh parliamentary ward, and is considered a hot seat. The other two seats under the ward are Permatang Pasir and Penanti.

Permatang Pauh was a PH stronghold and had been held by Mr Anwar’s family for four decades until it unexpectedly fell to PN during the general election in 2022 as part of the so-called Islamist green wave that propelled the opposition coalition to gain an unexpected one-third of the 222-parliamentary seats.

The colour green is associated with Islam and forms the party colours of PAS.

“We believe the wave is still there and is now amplifed because people are not satisfied with the administration of the federal government and this will be manifested through the vote,” Mr Izhar Shah said.


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