The Slim by-election has taken place. I congratulate both the winner and his competitors as well as the constituency’s voters for the successful exercise.

Nevertheless, the results were not what we, the combined Opposition of Malaysia, would have liked. The fault does not lie with the candidate which was run—he tried his best against difficult odds.

However, the Slim bye-election is cause for all Malaysian Opposition parties—especially KEADILAN and Pakatan Harapan (PH)—to seriously reflect and consolidate, especially in terms of strategy as well as approach.

But it cannot be denied that the Independent candidate that was backed by the Opposition was still defeated by a party whose leaders are facing criminal charges in court and who are part of a “backdoor” government that is increasingly fractious as well as unstable.

Indeed, the candidate selected by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s PEJUANG party was not only defeated in Slim, but with a majority 5-times higher than in 2018 (i.e. 10,945 votes compared to 2,183) in a seat that us almost 75% Malay. This was despite claims by some PH politicians and analysts that Tun Dr Mahathir’s presence was absolutely necessary to swing the Malay and other voters, that no one else could do it.

What’s more concerning for the Opposition is that the BN candidate polled 13,060 votes, i.e. more than the combined total of UMNO and PAS’ 2018 votes (12,430). Moreover, BN reportedly won all polling stations in Slim—including those which were predominantly non-Malay.

The PEJUANG candidate this round got 2,115 votes compared to BERSATU’s 6,144 in 2018 (when it was still with PH). This suggests that large swathes of Opposition-leaning supporters stayed away from the ballot boxes or went to BN, which is also worrying.

It is true that Slim was a BN/UMNO stronghold. Moreover, the late incumbent was popular and the candidate UMNO ran to replace him had worked closely with him in the past. Voters may have been swayed by other local factors.

But it is also a fact is that PEJUANG ran a campaign that was largely devoid of issues or a message beyond expecting voters to back them simply because of who they are and who their Chairman is. This is an entitled attitude and a recipe for disaster.

When GE15 comes, PH certainly cannot go to voters offering nothing but relitigating the feuds of the last decade, whether it is the 1MDB scandal, the issues that confronted the federal government we led from 2018—2020 or the “Sheraton Move.”

I am not saying that these points are irrelevant, but it cannot the only things that we run on. And PH certainly should not be aligning itself with other parties who cannot see or understand this.

“Kleptokrat”, “Kerajaan pintu belakang” and “pengkhianat” will not be slogans we will win the next General Elections on. Not on their own.

The fact is that PEJUANG did not offer a compelling economic message to the voters of Slim. The party could not persuade them that their lives and livelihoods would improve if they voted for their candidate. There was no vision, no hope or promise for the future.

And that is why the PEJUANG candidate lost. This is the mistake that PH must avoid in the next election.

Of course, we don’t have to shy away from exposing the abuses and lack of legitimacy of the current government. But this cannot be in the absence of a plan for bettering the economic prospects of Malaysians, especially in light of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

The heavy defeat at Slim can be a turning point for KEADILAN and PH—but only if we learn the right lessons from it.

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