By Alan Ting
BATU PAHAT, April 15 (Bernama) -- Since as early as last year, Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman has been relentless in going round different parts of Johor to re-affirm the support of the people towards Barisan Nasional (BN) to prepare ahead for the coming general election.
Many BN component leaders say that Ghani has been working hard to address issues affecting various groups in Johor, especially Chinese voters, as support from this community is said to be rather lukewarm this time around.
Furthermore, many political observers believe that UMNO is likely to get a repeat of support it got during the 2008 polls from Malay voters.
Fifty-six state seats are in contention in Johor, also known as the bastion of BN. In 2008, there was a slight dent when BN won 50 of the seats while DAP took four and PAS two.
As for parliamentary seats, BN retained 25 out of 26 in Johor, with only Bakri falling to DAP.
For BN strategists, Malay and to a certain extent, Indian support seem to be assured in Johor. Their concern now is mostly focused on areas with at least 40 per cent Chinese voters.
Hence, Tangkak and Penggaram (state seats) as well as Gelang Patah, Tebrau, Kulai, Pulai and Muar (parliamentary seats) have been singled out as areas where they should work extra hard with Chinese voters.
An analysis of the demographics of parliamentary seats in southern Johor indicate that areas with strong Chinese representation are Pulai (40 per cent), Gelang Patah (54 per cent), Kulai (58 per cent), Tebrau (38 per cent), Pasir Gudang (40 per cent)and Johor Bahru (43 per cent).
As for state seats, the focus for Chinese votes will be Pengkalan Rinting (44 per cent) Kempas (36 per cent) Skudai (66 per cent), Nusajaya (40 per cent), Bukit Permai (36 per cent), Bukit Batu (63 per cent), Senai (67 per cent), Tiram (31 per cent), Puteri Wangsa (47 per cent), Johor Jaya (49 per cent), Permas (30 per cent), Tanjong Puteri (32 per cent) and Stulang (55 per cent).
But one must also note that northern Johor also has substantial Chinese voters.
"Overall, Johor, as compared to the other states, is slightly better. There is no issue at the state level, as MB (Menteri Besar) has been working very hard to solve many issues. Along with the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) who has visited Johor three to four times over the past few months, I think the support (from Chinese voters) will be slightly better," said a MCA divisional leader who did not wish to be named.
But according to Penggaram state assemblyman Datuk Koh Chee Chai, the young Chinese voters' support towards BN still seems to be elusive. This is because they are still concerned over Chinese education and the environment, such as the oil terminal project in Pengerang.
"It still very tough for MCA in the Chinese majority areas and we have to do a lot of hard work," he said, adding that the party must first get all its members to vote for BN.
In the 2008 polls, the Opposition contested in 25 parliamentary seats in Johor -- DAP six, PAS eight and PKR 11. Only DAP won in Bakri.
Traditionally, Johor is regarded as a "fixed deposit" for BN, similar to Sabah and Sarawak.
In other words, if the Opposition wants to take over the federal government, it must win at least one-third of the seats in Johor, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak.
Of the 25 BN parliamentary seats in Johor, UMNO holds 16, MCA seven, Gerakanone and MIC one.
Political observers believe that it is still difficult for the Opposition to wrest one third of the seats in Johor since this means that the Opposition must win another eight seats to achieve this target.
They say that UMNO is still too strong in Johor and the easier way is for the Opposition to capitalise on areas with substantial Chinese voters.
Therefore, it is not surprising when Johor PAS chief Mahfodz Mohamed said that it is more difficult to fight for Malay votes in Johor compared to Chinese and Indian votes.
He claims that a poll showed that 70 per cent of Chinese voters and 50 per cent of Indian voters will support PAS.
This explains why some analysts argue that Chinese support toward the Opposition in Johor had risen to 68 per cent after 2008 and climbed further to 79 per cent while Malay support for the Opposition still remains at 25 to 30 per cent.
DAP state chairman Dr Boo Cheng Hau has said that to get one third of the seats in Johor, the Opposition needed more national leaders, particularly Johor-born politicians, to return to the state to contest.
Among the Johor-born Opposition politicians are DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang, DAP publicity chief and Petaling Jaya Utara Member of Parliament Tony Pua, Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching and Selangor state assembly speaker Datuk Teng Chang Khim. All of them were born in Batu Pahat.
The other Johoreans include Johor Bahru-born DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Muar-born PKR vice-president and state chairman Datuk Chua Jui Meng, and Pontian-born PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub.
But BN insiders believe that Chinese voters in Johor will take a rational stand, especially with the favourable disposition towards the government brought about by Najib's transformation programmes although they are still affected by corruption issues.
"They are impressed with the PM's (Prime Minister) aggressiveness as he tries to accomplish more changes in the country. Wherever the PM goes, you can see the crowds, but when you talk about NFC (National Feedlot Corporation), they start whacking us," said Simpang Renggam MP Liang Teck Ming.
He believes most Chinese voters are still undecided and the choice of candidates will be an important factor in getting voters to make a final decision.
But, what is certain for now is that BN still holds sway in Johor and the state remains merely a pipe dream for the Opposition.