Three factors explain the Barisan Nasional victory in the Johor state election.
First, it shows that the people’s frustrations and disappointments over Dr Mahathir Mohamad have not dissipated. The unprecedented victory for Pakatan Harapan in 2018, which saw the fall of the goliath BN after six decades, was vapourised 22 months after the general election.
Many still harbour the pain and hold Mahathir responsible for the disintegration of the PH federal government in 2020. The sense of betrayal cut deep.
The disgust that many felt over Mahathir’s betrayal may partly explain why so many came out in droves to cheer the convicted Najib Razak on the campaign trail – even when Mahathir was consistently criticising Najib.
Second, Anwar Ibrahim has failed to position himself as being still the formidable leader he was when he went to prison. That failure is visible from three aspects.
Anwar did not turn the tide on Mahathir when the public was growing impatient and suspicious of Mahathir over his delayed passing of the baton over to Anwar.
Anwar also failed to position his partners, the DAP and Amanah, as superior to Umno’s partnering with the MIC and the MCA. Their PH parties’ weakness was seen when PKR, the DAP and Amanah had difficulty in deciding which party logo to use or what combination to create for the campaign period in Johor. And this is not the first time too.
The fact that Anwar failed to embrace the independent candidates and Muda from the start contributed to BN’s victory. Inclusiveness was a strategy that Anwar should have used to bolster a vibrant presence for difficult times.
Third, Umno presented the BN formula formidably. There were no public spats between Umno, the MCA and the MIC. BN also played its cards right in distancing itself from Pas.
The negative sentiment that people had towards Mahathir was also shown towards Mahiaddin Yasin – for it was Mahiaddin and gang who were the prime movers of the unacceptable Sheraton Move, when mass defections from the PH government triggered its collapse.
Arguments of a poor voter turnout (about 55%) do not hold water and are sheer speculation.
However, BN needs to be warned that its win in Johor was not a vote of approval for several of its leaders who are facing court proceedings. The people are not that dumb, as some may want us to believe.
On the contrary, the outcome revealed a vote for a coalition that had successfully presented itself as a formidable and coordinated goliath that had revived itself.
There is still time to learn some lessons fast before the looming general election.