BN Johor line-up puts a face on Umno power struggle

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PETALING JAYA: The Barisan Nasional decision to field 70% new candidates in the Johor elections has more to do with a struggle for power in Umno rather than offering voters “fresh faces”, says an analyst.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said he believed the move would see “the mainstream faction” in Umno, led by its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former prime minister Najib Razak, consolidating their power in the party.

“I think what’s going on is the gradual surfacing of this internal power struggle between the mainstream faction and those aligned to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob,” he told FMT. “The mainstream faction is trying to make sure that these candidates are people who will remain loyal to them.”

He said BN’s tactics did not really matter in terms of election results as most of the Umno candidates have a high chance of winning given that Johor is a traditional Umno stronghold.

Oh thinks that BN is most likely to win the biggest number of seats because the opposition is divided and their votes will be diluted.

He says MCA and MIC were given more seats to contest to win over the mixed-seat constituencies, especially in northern, central, and southern Johor but otherwise had little significance as the two parties were seen as being obedient to Umno.

Meanwhile, another analyst, Azmi Hassan of Akademi Nusantara, said the introduction of new faces not only demonstrates that BN is willing to change and is attuned to the requests of voters, but also works as an effective strategy.

“They’re not trying to play safe, just trying to play what is effective. Melaka and Sarawak have shown that new faces working together with old hands is a good combination.

He said BN did poorly in the 2018 general election because the same old faces were contesting. “I think they realised that they needed to change this. I think Umno and BN are just trying to be relevant to the new generation of voters,” he said.

However, he said BN is smart enough to also allow some familiar names, especially Umno Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi, to contest in order to attract the veteran voters.

Azmi also thinks that Umno is confident with the seats they are contesting, which is why the party is willing to give up that many seats to MCA and MIC as a friendly gesture.

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