Webinar on “New Perspectives on the Johor State Election”

In this webinar, the March Johor elections will be analysed. Dr Serina Rahman presented her findings as a resident in Johor, as well as representatives from three parties new to contesting in Johor – Amira Aisyah (MUDA), Datin Paduka Che Asmah (Pejuang), and Dr Rajiv Bhanot (Warisan).


Wednesday, 2 March 2022 – As Johor heads for a snap state election with polling due on the 12 March, there are no less than three parties that are making their electoral debut in the state. Considering the diversity among the new parties, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute invited guest speakers from the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) and Parti Warisan Sabah (WARISAN) to speak on the upcoming state election. MUDA was represented by Amira Aisyah, who is also the party’s Secretary General and candidate for the Puteri Wangsa seat. MUDA is championing youth interests and is helmed by former youth Minister Syed Sadiq. Datin Paduka Che Asmah is the Head of Pejuanita, the Women’s Wing of Pejuang. Pejuang is a Malay-based party established by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Dr Rajiv Bhanot is the Chief Coordinator for WARISAN in Peninsula Malaysia. WARISAN is a multi-racial party with its roots in Sabah.

Dr Serina Rahman presented her views from the ground in Johor. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Serina Rahman (Visiting Fellow, ISEAS) kickstarted the presentation with a ground-up analysis based on her fieldwork findings. She explained that despite the attention placed on UNDI 18, voters between the age of 18 to 20 only comprise six percent of the overall electorate. In contrast, the bulk of the electorate falls between 21 to 39 years old. Based on her observations in Tanjung Kupang (within the Kota Iskandar state seat), Perikatan Nasional (PN) was the first coalition to campaign and reach out to voters. As PN started to distribute aid, Barisan Nasional (BN) soon followed suit. Dr Serina shared that the electorate is generally confused about politics, given the frequent re-alignments between coalitions coupled with the proliferation of new parties. While a party’s logo is typically used for visual differentiation, the similarities in logo between BN, PN and Pejuang further reduces the distinctions between parties. Dr Serina cautioned that voters are largely apathetic about the election, as parties from all sides have failed to deliver tangible benefits to ordinary Malaysians despite the numerous changes in administration since 2018. She concluded that the electorate is most concerned about the lacklustre economy which has suffered since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Amira, the guest speaker from MUDA, explained that her party seeks to articulate the challenges faced by Malaysian youths. In contrast to the perception that MUDA is urban-centric, the party is in active engagements with urban and rural youths. A significant percentage of MUDA’s top leaders also grew up in semi-urban and rural areas, including Amira. She explained that MUDA is not solely championing for the interests of young Malaysians. Instead, the issues affecting young Malaysians (for instance a lack of job opportunities) are challenges impacting all Malaysians. Despite its youth-oriented approach, MUDA reaches out to all age groups through policy proposals where the majority would stand to benefit. MUDA has fielded candidates in seven seats in the upcoming election, spanning from urban to semi-rural and rural areas.

Datin Paduka Che Asmah argued that Pejuang is led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad which has extensive experience in politics. She explained that her party is campaigning to eliminate corruption and mismanagement which has stifled Malaysia’s economic growth. The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in economic hardship, with Johor being particularly impacted due to border closure. Despite its status as a Malay-based party, Pejuang aims to represent all Malaysians. Pejuang has fielded candidates in 42 seats in the upcoming election, with all of them being Malay-majority. Datin Paduka Che Asmah commented that Pejuang plans to rejuvenate the economy through reforming Technical and Vocational training while providing new pathways for youths to be retrained. She concluded her presentation by sharing that Johor is an important battle for the party since a substantial share of Pejuang grassroots members reside in Johor.

Dr Rajiv explained that WARISAN is contesting in Johor since the party is rooted in multi-racial values and aspires to represent all Malaysians, despite its origins from Sabah. He argued that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Ismail Sabri’s administration has severely weakened PH’s ability to serve as an effective opposition and check against the excesses of the incumbent federal government. WARISAN has therefore chosen not to participate in the MoU, and contest against both PH and the ruling coalition in the upcoming Johor election. WARISAN would be contesting for six seats in the upcoming election, with the bulk of them being mixed seats.

The webinar attracted a large turnout of 100 participants. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar.

Top left to right: Dr Francis Hutchinson (moderator), Dr Serina Rahman, Amira Aisyah. Bottom left to right: Datin Paduka Che Asmah and Dr Rajiv Bhanot. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)