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KUALA LUMPUR:  Selangor, the opposition-held and richest state in Malaysia, home to some of the country’s top universities and best-educated citizens, will be hotly contested in the upcoming general elections which must be held by August 2018.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is going all out to win back the state from the opposition – launching a slew of infrastructure projects in recent years – but analysts expect Selangor to remain in the hands of the opposition.

Analysts say the opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan has certain advantages in Selangor that it does not have in other states – among them is the large pool of well-educated citizens who are sensitive to issues affecting the whole country, not just the state.

Selangor voters, say analysts and opposition politicians, are most concerned with the rising cost of living and stagnant wages in the country.

In addition, the opposition is seen as having run Selangor, a complex, multi-racial state, fairly well.

“I think it will be a difficult task for BN to win back Selangor,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, analyst with BowerGroupAsia risk consultancy.

“Although Prime Minister Najib introduced a budget targeting the urban middle-class but the increasing cost of living and stagnant wages are still a major concern for the Selangor electorate.”

Asrul added: “The urban and semi-urban constituencies in Selangor are also in Pakatan Harapan’s  favour. The economic indicators may be positive but the realities on the ground differs drastically.”

Inflation hit an eight-year high to rise 5.1 per cent in March this year due to higher fuel costs. It has since moderated to 3.8 per cent in the third quarter, but is still higher than 2016’s full-year inflation of 2.1 per cent.

Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who is also in charge of the Economic Planning Unit, said the 5.1 per cent inflation was a one-off figure.

“I want to talk about the number 5.1 per cent which is a (year-on-year) comparison between March 2017 and March 2016,” he said.

“Unfortunately for that particular month, the base inflation for March 2016 was very low because of the falling oil prices. So the next year, in March 2017, the hike seems to be very high.

“But the core inflation is half of that. If you look at the core inflation for March 2017, it  is 2.5 per cent rather than 5.1 per cent.”

However, voters, analysts and opposition parties echoed BowerGroupAsia’s concerns.

COST OF LIVING CONCERNS

“The cost of living, GST, weekly fuel prices are two extremely emotive issues,” said Rafizi Ramli, vice president of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), referring to the Goods and Services Tax.

Malaysia’s fuel prices are adjusted weekly and it has been trending up for the past few months.

“The reason people feel the pinch is because wages has not grown in tandem with the rise of costs of living,” said Rafizi.

According to surveys conducted by PKR based on the same basket of goods used by the government, inflation has been averaging 5 per cent per annum, according Rafizi.

“Our survey with about 5,000 people with the same basket of goods that the government monitors to determine inflation,  indicate on average that it’s definitely above 5 per cent. In the baskets for food and school expenses, it’s above 10 per cent,” said Rafizi.

Selangor resident Ronasina, 44, who runs a small business, told Channel NewsAsia he has to work harder than ever as his margins are shrinking while the cost of goods keep rising.

“I have to work very hard to offset this high cost of goods and expenses,” said Ronasina.

Independent pollster Merdeka Center believes the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan stands a chance of retaining Selangor as it has run the state “reasonably well”.

“I think opposition has the potential to retain Selangor in the coming general elections  despite possible multi-corner contests and changes in electoral boundaries,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of Merdeka Center.

“The reason why I say so is because Selangor is multi-racial and has a higher alternative media penetration.

“In addition, opposition presence is fairly strong. They have run the state reasonably well for the past decade and shown to be competent to manage a complex state.”

RESPONSIVE TO PEOPLE’S NEEDS

A female Malay voter in Selangor gave the opposition government the thumbs up, saying the state government has been responsive to the needs of the people and that she will be voting for them again.

“I am an activist in the community. Every time I contact an opposition MP for help, they will respond promptly,” said the female voter who declined to be named.

“What I also like is that the state government has allowances for funeral  and wedding expenses for everyone. It is multi-racial. I received RM500 (US$121) for my father’s funeral expenses when he died.”

The wedding and funeral allowances are available for all races who are either born or long-term residents in Selangor.

“Most of all, I appreciate the state government organising many activities for youths that help to keep them off the streets, from drugs, from crime,” she added.

The opposition coalition has been wracked by infighting but they are still confident they can keep Selangor.

“Pakatan may not be as strong before. But then again, neither is Barisan Nasional,” said Kadir Jasin, a close aide of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who is now leading the opposition coalition.

Kadir is a member of the Supreme Leadership Council of Mahathir’s new party called the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM).

“The number of people turning out to vote from UMNO has also fallen,” said Kadir referring to the largest party in the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP), the largest member of the opposition coalition, is “cautiously optimistic” they can keep Selangor as the ruling UMNO’s leadership has weak leadership in the state.

“There is no one from UMNO who can match the stature of Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali from PKR,” said DAP’s central executive committee member and MP Liew Chin Tong.

“UMNO in Selangor has been factionalised for a long time … they have not been able to command 100 per cent support of Malays.”
Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/opposition-expected-to -retain-selangor-state-in-malaysia-9427290

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