Sungai Bakap by-election: a personal battle for Anwar

Sungai Bakap by-election: a personal battle for Anwar
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim simply could not afford to lose Sungai Bakap seat, which is his birthplace, to oppostion Perikatan Nasional for the second time (Photo credit: Anwar Ibrahim Facebook page)

Sungai Bakap state constituency will be having a by-election soon, following the death of Perikatan Nasional (PN) assemblyman Nor Zamri Latiff of PAS on May 24 at the age of 55 due to stomach inflammation.

Nor Zamri, fondly known as "Abang Zam" by many, won the seat against Pakatan Harapan's Norhidayah Che Rose of PKR with a majority of 1,563 votes in a straight contest during the 15th state elections held last August. His victory ended PKR's domination of Sungai Bakap for three terms since it first won the seat in the 2008 general elections (GE12).

Former Sungai Bakap assemblyman Nor Zamri Latiff (Photo credit: Nor Zamri Latiff Facebook Page)

The Election Commission will announce the by-election date on June 6. It is expected that PKR will be contesting the seat, given the fact that it contested the seat last year and that Sungai Bakap has been its traditional seat.

PAS, of course, is expected to nominate a candidate as it now owns the seat and its partner in PN, Bersatu would not risk straining its relationship with the Islamist party by gunning for the seat. Sungai Bakap voters can expect themselves to witness a straight rematch between PN and PH, despite the possibility of independent candidates contesting the seat as well.

A personal battle for Anwar

For Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, this by-election is a test of whether the Madani government would be able to win back the support of Sungai Bakap voters. Pundits are wondering whether the Madani coalition would be able to replicate its recent success in the Kuala Kubu Baharu in this Penang seat.

As the PKR president, this by-election would also test whether his party could win back the seat from PN, as well as its ability to win back the Malay voters there given the fact that the seat is a Malay majority and that Malay voters are overwhelmingly supporting PN. Does Anwar enjoy the support of the Malay voters here in Penang? The outcome of this by-election could provide the answer.

It is worth pointing out that this by-election, for Anwar, would be a personal battle for him, given the fact that Sungai Bakap is his birthplace. For a sitting prime minister, having lost his hometown seat to the opposition last year must have been a humiliation for him. At this point, Anwar simply could not afford to bear a second humiliation in the hands of PAS by losing the seat to the party again.

Going all in, in Sg Bakap

For PKR (and PH) to wrest this seat back from PN, the party needs to ramp up the ongoing work that it has been carrying out in Sungai Bakap post-2023 state elections to win back the voters there. PKR needs to pitch to the voters on the economic and infrastructural developments that it could offer to the constituency, something that PN could not do as the opposition in the state.

PKR would have to ramp up online campaigning by doing online ceramah events as traditional ceramahs are beginning to lose their appeal to the masses, especially young voters. The party would have to work hard to win Malay voters on its own, and not be fully dependent on its unity government partner UMNO, which is still struggling to win back the trust of the Malay voters.

The party would also need to reach out to non-Malay voters and convince them that this party still have their interests at its heart, as there is a growing perception that the party is ditching its multiracial identity by increasingly moving to the right in an attempt to win the conservative Malay voters.

Re-nominate Norhidayah for Sungai Bakap

Norhidayah Che Rose (Photo credit: Norhidayah Che Rose Facebook post)
Norhidayah Che Rose (Photo credit: Norhidayah Che Rose Facebook page)

For PKR to be able to wrest back Sungai Bakap from PN, it means fielding the best candidate to go up against the PN candidate, and that candidate would have to be Norhidayah Che Rose.

Norhidayah, who is now a councillor for the Seberang Perai City Council, is the right candidate for the seat as she gave a tough contest for PN in the seat last year. By losing with a margin of just 1,563 votes and making the seat vulnerable for PN, she gave a glimmer of hope for PKR that it could stand a chance to win the seat.

Plus, PKR would not have to worry about a candidate's lack of name recognition among the locals should it go with Norhidayah, who has already built a reputation among the voters there, being closely affiliated with Fadhlina Sidek, the Nibong Tebal MP.

By re-nominating Norhidayah and adopting the right campaigning strategies, PKR would be able to win the seat, thus adding a Malay female elected representative to the Penang state assembly, which currently has none.

In conclusion, as the Sungai Bakap by-election is becoming a personal battle for Anwar given his personal connection with the place, the prime minister simply could not afford to bear an embarrassment of massive proportions by losing the seat to PAS.

No prime minister would be fondly remembered in history books should they lose their hometown seat to an opposition party twice.

Therefore, the prime minister should endorse Norhidayah, the right candidate that could win the seat, and go all in to ensure that her victory is guaranteed in Sungai Bakap.


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