Bukit Gambir – Gambir, a state constituency tucked in the northern region of Johor, with Bukit Gambir as the main town, has suddenly become the talk of the nation, thanks to the announcement of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that he would be contesting there.
The MIC’s candidate list released yesterday (22 April 2018) included Datuk M.Asojan (pic) as the candidate for Gambir state.
MIC Johor state chairman Datuk M.Asojan has successfully defended the seat for the last 3 consecutive elections but the forthcoming one could be most challenging one for him.
Few days earlier PAS announced that the party’s Head of powerful Syura Ulamak Council Dr Mahfodz Bin Mohamed would be contesting in Gambir and Batu Pahat Parliament seat.
With the announcements put together Gambir has become the political stage for a three-cornered battle of pride for all the three contestants which will closely watched by political observers.
Can Asojan win for the fourth time?
In 2013, Asojan managed to retain the seat only with a thin margin of 310 votes and probably that is the reason why Muhyiddin chose the seat among a pool of 56 state seats in Johor. Gambir is one of the 3 state constituencies under the Ledang parliament division.
However, some political observers believe that it will not be a smooth sailing ride for Muhyiddin given the racial composition of the constituency and the track-record Asojan has built in terms of developments over the years.
When contacted by selliyal.com for comment on the impending challenge he is facing from a political heavyweight, Asojan merely said: “Yes! He might be a political heavyweight compared to me. But the weight of my services to Gambir over the last 14 years and the support from my constituents will definitely outweigh his political might. Just wait and see”
Johor Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin has already declared that UMNO Johor will go all out against Muhyiddin wherever he is fielded. The Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership is also expected to focus on Gambir and provide all the necessary election machinery and ammunition to the MIC-BN candidate as it would be a great victory if they could defeat Muhyiddin in his new chosen territory, given the fact that it might be an uphill task to topple him in his home-turf of Pagoh parliamentary seat.
Some political observers argue that Muhyiddin should have contested in a state seat within his own parliament constituency of Pagoh, as it would have been much easier for him to manage and control his political campaigns since he would have to travel far and wide to campaign for other PPBM candidates all over the country.
Furthermore, as President of PPBM, Muhyiddin should have challenged one of the UMNO stalwarts in Johor or should have chosen a seat to defeat a strong UMNO candidate as PPBM was formed and claims to replace UMNO. This is what the DAP is doing by fielding strong candidates against top MCA and Gerakan leaders to show that they have the Chinese community’s support.
Instead, Muhyiddin has chosen a seat defended by a MIC candidate for 3 terms which only goes to show that he fears to face a UMNO candidate in Johor when comes to a State constituency.
Can Asojan win based on his service over the years?
Many voters also feel Asojan has done well over the years to develop Gambir from a sleepy, hollow town into what it is today, bustling with business activities and a host of development projects and suddenly Muhyiddin is seen as an ‘outsider’ and ‘spoiler’ of all these.
In comparison, Asojan lives in Bukit Gambir with his family, which means he has been attending to the needs of his constituents almost on a daily basis.
As to the voters, to start with, the majority of the 4% Indian voters, although small in number, may decide to stick with Asojan, as they have gained much from their elected representative over the years. Local Indian voters claim that most of their needs have been attended to and they are very comfortable with Asojan’s services coupled with his pleasant disposition.
Gambir’s Chinese voters – a different kettle of fish
The only Hindu temple for the Indian community in Bukit Gambir was completed recently with the help of a local Chinese businessman who donated the land for the temple. That kind gesture by a Chinese businessman also speaks volumes of the mindset of the Chinese community in Gambir which forms 40% of the electorate.
During the last decade, the businesses and revenues of the Chinese community have multiplied many folds, largely due to the development projects. One project which Asojan singles out is the Sengkang link road to Kampong Teratai, once called Jalan Mati as it was inaccessible as a dead-end road.
Asojan persistently took up the matter with the state government and a link road was built which now connects Sengkang to Kampong Teratai which thereby opens up the area to other regions of northern Johor. This enables many of the vegetables and agro-based products produced around Sengkang to be transported without any hassle to other parts of Johor. “Many may not know that 40% of agriculture needs of northern Johor are satisfied by the farmers of Sengkang-Gambir area,” says Asojan.
There is also a permanent FAMA market for agricultural products established in Bukit Gambir which is also an effort by previous Menteri Besar Ghani Othman, who was also the former head of Ledang UMNO division within which the Gambir state constituency is located.
“Bukit Gambir far more developed than Muar”
In an article posted on Free Malaysia Today (FMT) on 17th April 2018, academic Md Akbal Abdullah from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn commented that “There are no development issues in Gambir. The constituency is far more developed than Muar” – and therefore Muhyiddin would not be able to campaign and attract the voters of Gambir on development issues.
All the developments in Gambir also came about after the tenure of Muhyiddin as Menteri Besar (he was Johor MB from 1986 to 1995) and therefore he also would not be able to stake any claims to the developments which are currently enjoyed by Gambir voters.
All these factors only go to show that Muhyiddin may not get the overwhelming support of the Chinese community who are enjoying the fruits of the development projects brought about in Gambir, by the BN-led state and federal government.
Will the Malay votes swing in favour Muhyiddin?
Finally, Muhyiddin’s only hope is that the Malay voters would swing to his favour assuming the so-called ‘Malay tsunami’ takes place coupled with some support from the Chinese community.
But there is also a snag!
In 2008 Asojan won in Gambir with a 2,463 majority and it is speculated that the reduced margin of 310 votes in 2013 was due to the in-fighting among local UMNO leaders which resulted in 2 independent candidates backed by some UMNO quarters contesting against Asojan. The 2 independents together polled 1,098 votes but both lost their deposits. However, the total number of votes Asojan polled in 2013 was an increase from what he polled in 2008 but the margin of the majority was reduced due to the split of Malay votes by independent candidates.
There was also another reason for the reduced margin of majority for Asojan in 2013. It was the strong candidature of PAS candidate Dr Mahfodz Bin Mohamed then, who will be contesting again in the forthcoming GE-14.
In 2013 Mahfodz was virtually an unknown figure but during the last 5 years, his stature is PAS has grown steadily and he is currently the head of powerful Syura Ulamak council of PAS, a post once held by PAS stalwarts such as Nik Abdul Aziz and Haron Din.
PAS has announced that Mahfodz would be contesting in Gambir state seat and the Batu Pahat Parliament seat in Johor. With such a strong candidate fielded by PAS, it will be interesting to see the number of votes Mahfodz would be able to sway in favour of PAS among the Malay voters.
With BN’s vote bank hopefully remaining intact, if Mahfodz is able to secure a sizeable Malay votes for PAS then it could be a disaster for Muhyiddin, which means that even if a Malay tsunami takes place in Gambir it may be split between PAS and Pakatan Rakyat, which would result in an easy sail for Asojan as BN candidate, provided he is able to secure more or less the similar support from his constituents that he enjoyed in 2013.
In conclusion, Muhyddin’s victory in Gambir may not be based on how many votes he may secure but based on how many votes would be secured by PAS candidate Mahfodz.