SG Bacup by-election: The honeymoon is over as the campaign moves to a critical stage

Ahmad Erwan Osman and Lucia Terry Anak John

NIBONG THEBAL, June 29 (Bernama) – The “honeymoon” phase of the Sungai Bakap by-election campaign has ended and is moving into the most crucial and difficult stage with just seven days left until the July 6 polling day.

Candidates Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) are aiming to recapture the seat, a traditional PKR stronghold, and defend PAS’s victory in last August’s state elections.

In the first week of the campaign, Philippine candidate Dr. Juhari Ariffin, 60, former director of the Aminuddin Baki Institute northern chapter, and PN candidate Abidin Ismail, 56, who is Nibong Tebal PAS vice-president, were seen working tirelessly to engage with voters through numerous programs from dawn until late at night.

Juhari appears to have the upper hand, with a more organised and structured daily schedule that is open to the media every night, whereas Abidin initially faced difficulties as planned events were often cancelled at the last minute, leaving media personnel unaware of his whereabouts.

But Abidin denied shying away from the media, saying his hectic campaign schedule made it difficult to coordinate.

“I am not shying away from the media. There is nothing wrong with it. I just have a lot of work – speeches, travelling here and there. It can be tiring. Sorry,” Abidin said in response to complaints from media personnel.

In contrast, Juhari, a former teacher, held a media get-together where he introduced himself and shared his mission and aspirations for the Sungai Bacap by-election.

Since the election campaign began last Saturday, both Juhari and Abidin have focused on running a healthy and ethical campaign, avoiding any provocations or personal attacks.

Juhari has refrained from making unrealistic promises, frequently reminding voters of the importance of higher education to improve their current standard of living, and aims to boost the small town’s economy by promoting industrial development, including ecotourism.

Meanwhile, Abidin is focusing on local and national issues such as water supply and cost of living as key campaign points despite facing controversy over his ISO academic qualification. He aims to carry on the legacy of the late Nor Zamri Latif, the former incumbent from Sungai Bekap constituency. Commenting on the progress of the campaign and the prospects of the candidates, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political analyst Professor Datuk Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said both candidates have a similar approach.

As they are local candidates, they understand the political culture, voter demographics and geography of Sungai Bakap and are therefore better placed to command voters’ trust, he added.

He noted that although Jukhari had no political experience, he had a strong educational background, having been active in the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM) and having served as a teacher and director at the Aminuddin Baki Institute.

“Meanwhile, the PN candidate was a special officer to the late Nor Zamri Latif (his predecessor) and so has links to the area.

“I think both candidates are trying to engage with all voters, whether they are Malay, Chinese or Indian, because every voter plays an important role here,” he said, adding that he expected both candidates to be more active in campaigning in the coming week.

Given that PAS won the last state election with a majority of 1,563 votes, Sivamurugan advised PH to persuade UMNO and undecided voters to support it and to work to get Indian and Chinese voters to take part in the July 6 polls.

He stressed that while national issues were important in this by-election, it was crucial to address long-standing local issues such as water supply, flooding, employment opportunities, education, traffic congestion and the influx of foreign workers into Sungai Bakap.

Meanwhile, Dr Ainul Azeri Hasnul, a political analyst at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), believes PH should focus on the Malay vote as they make up 59.4 percent of the electorate and can go a long way in winning back the constituency.

“Non-Malay voters (40.6%) are expected to support Juhari, but what about the Malay electorate, who are known to be divided?”

“We need to take into account the local and national issues at play here and I believe the PN candidate may have an advantage that has not been revealed,” he said.

Commenting on the PN’s insistence that they will “protest against the cost of living through the ballot box” and their stance that “nothing changes whether we win or lose”, Ainur Azeri acknowledged that nothing will change if the opposition wins, but the results will still show whether the government and political parties are consolidating strength or are facing difficulties.

“Certainly, choosing a representative from the ruling party is generally better in terms of communication and support.

“The people can choose between the government candidate or the opposition candidate, but I believe PAS will try hard to defend its state assembly seat because their mission and vision is towards GE16 (16th general elections),” he said, predicting a low voter turnout similar to that in the Kuala Kubu Bahru by-election.

Juhari and Abidin will go head-to-head in the Sungai Bacap by-election on July 6, following the death of incumbent Noor Latif from abdominal inflammation on May 24.

There are 39,279 registered voters in Sungai Bakap constituency, of which 39,222 are general voters and 57 are police officers.

— Bernama


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