By Liew Chin Tong

JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia--All indications seem to point towards a state election in Melaka although there are talks of having an emergency imposed to delay it.

The coalition that intends to form a state government will need to win at least 15 out of the 28 seats in the Melaka state assembly.

Even though the result of the Melaka election may not alter the current equation of federal power, it is still highly consequential – all parties will attempt to scrutinise every detail to draw lessons for the coming general election.

This state election can also be seen as having the effect of a mega by-election although the result may not necessarily foreshadow the outcome of subsequent national elections.

By-election lessons

PKR lost the Ijok by-election on 28 April 2007 with more than 80% of Indian voters voting for Barisan Nasional. However, the party went on to win the March 2008 general election and swept to power in Selangor. As a result of the Hindraf protests in November 2007, 80% of Indian voters nationwide voted for the opposition in the 2008 general election.

Pakatan Harapan also lost the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar twin by-elections on 18 June 2016 but won the historic May 2018 general election convincingly.

By-elections can occasionally act as a form of a ‘gigantic’ polling survey to help political parties make tough decisions heading into the general election.

In December 1968, 28-year-old Lim Kit Siang contested the Serdang by-election  which he lost in a three-cornered fight involving DAP and Gerakan, both newly formed opposition parties, against the Alliance government candidate. The by-election inspired both parties to enter seat negotiations and avoided overlapping contests.

In April 2011, the Sarawak state election results which saw DAP doubled its seats from 6 to 12 provided a huge morale boost for the national swing in Pakatan Rakyat’s favour in the May 2013 general election.

Of late, there are talks that the Sarawak ruling coalition GPS would opt for an election around the same time as Melaka’s, i.e., late November or early December, even though the state-imposed emergency on Sarawak implemented in June 2021– with the purpose of preventing the spread of Covid-19– is slated to expire on 1 February 2022.

By having an earlier state election, GPS would be able to avoid the influx of new voters via automatic registration and Undi18 which would be put into effect by the end of this year.

The Election Commission is expected to deliberate on the detailed arrangements for the Melaka polls today (18 October) unless an emergency is imposed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong prior to that.  

UMNO’s predicament

UMNO used to control most of the Peninsula states with an iron fist, thus election dates were coordinated between federal and states.

Even the then opposition states such as Kelantan did not want to face the full brunt of the UMNO-BN campaign machinery and would play along to have concurrent federal and state elections.

As the stakes in Melaka is not a do-or-die situation, and given the fractured situation among the coalitions involved, the state election may see parties experimenting various arrangements.

On the UMNO front, its President Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may want to impose his will and sign the nominations for candidates aligned with him. However, he can expect that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob will want to do the same.

Until 2018, UMNO’s internal structure concentrated its powers in the hands of the party president who held the dual role as prime minister. Today, the state party is likely to wield huge influences on the final decision on candidates.

Melaka UMNO state chief Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh and his proxy chief minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali will surely insist on their choices.