By Annabelle Lee

CAMERON POLLS | The Cameron Highlands by-election is shaping up to be a tight contest between Pakatan Harapan and BN, unlike the four by-elections since the 14th general election.

During the May 9 national polls, BN won the seat by securing just 42.32 percent of the total votes cast whereas Harapan secured 39.87 percent.

PAS came out third with 14.73 percent of the votes.

With the slim margin separating BN and Harapan, PAS supporters in Cameron Highlands could become the kingmakers during the Jan 26 by-election.

Based on the May 9 results, the bulk of PAS supporters are located in Jelai – one of two state constituencies which make up the Cameron Highlands parliament seat.

PAS polled about double the amount of votes Harapan did in this area, winning in three of the 12 voting districts in Jelai.

The three voting districts – the Felda settlement town of Sungai Koyan, the villages of Kampung Keledek and Kampung Bukit Kota – are adjacent to each other, forming a belt stretching from Jalan Ringlet-Sungai Koyan through the entire breadth of Jalan Sungai Koyan-Berchang.

The Cameron Highlands parliamentary constituency is divided into 29 voting districts. In GE14, BN (in blue) won 16, followed by Pakatan Harapan (10) and PAS (3).

For this by-election, the Islamist party has stated that it would sit out, while BN is contemplating fielding an Umno candidate or an Orang Asli leader in the MIC traditional seat.

With PAS out of the picture, who would rural Malay voters back?

According to Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research programme director Ibrahim Suffian, Umno might not be the straightforward choice.

“It’s hard to say how they will exactly vote. In the recent by-elections in Selangor, we noticed that PAS supporters generally wouldn’t turn out in large numbers to support a non-Malay BN candidate.

“By some estimation, only half of PAS supporters went to vote for an Umno candidate in the Seri Setiaby-election,” he told Malaysiakini.

Unlike the four that have taken place since the last general election, this by-election would be the first held in a BN-controlled state and with an incumbent from the coalition.

“The question is whether the change in federal power will affect voter loyalties,” Ibrahim added.

Litmus test for Orang Asli support

Another potential kingmaker in Cameron Highlands is the Orang Asli community, which forms approximately 22 percent or 7,500 of the electorate.

This community – largely comprising the Semai people – is mostly located in the interior of the Jelai constituency.

There are nine polling districts where 94 percent or more voters are from the Orang Asli community.

Harapan and PAS were trounced in all nine polling districts.

The results suggest that the Orang Asli were the strongest supporters of BN on May 9.

The dark blue regions denotes the nine voting districts in Cameron Highlands where the Orang Asli community make up more than 90 percent of the electorate.

In contrast, Malay voters appear split between BN and PAS, albeit slightly in BN’s favour. The May 9 results would also suggest that the Chinese and Indian voters were firmly behind Harapan.

However, now that Harapan is in power, political observers told Malaysiakini that the voting trends of the Orang Asli would be closely scrutinised, given that their affairs are handled by the federal government-operated Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA).

Ibrahim predicted that BN risked losing its solid and long-standing support from the Cameron Highlands Orang Asli.

“Now that Harapan is in charge, BN can’t really count on that support for certain. In a way, this election will be a litmus test for Orang Asli support for BN,” he said.

According to Ilham Centre operations director Azlan Zainal, although Harapan controlled federal government agencies related to Orang Asli affairs, it would not necessarily translate into votes.

“This is compounded by the fact that Harapan is using a logo that is new to the community and BN is the state government. We think the Orang Asli will still vote for BN, albeit in lesser numbers,” he said.

Another factor that would determine how the Orang Asli vote would be the political inclinations of their community leaders.

“In the past, BN controlled everything – machinery, welfare and more. Harapan will need time in order to turn them over,” said Azlan.

ANDREW ONG contributed to this report.