Now that DAP parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang is to contest in the Gelang Patah parliamentary seat, Pakatan Rakyat will have shift its resources to help him and its other candidates in Johor, a Malay-dominated BN stronghold.
As the birthplace of Umno, the nation’s longest and strongest political party, Johor has unique electoral characteristics, including voter distribution and a political culture, that have made it a safe haven for many BN leaders.
The key to capturing the state will lie in Pakatan’s ability to find multi-ethnic support among voters, a prolonged weakness that the coalition has been struggling to overcome.
A glance at the 15 parliamentary constituencies that Lim has identified as winnable seats reveals that Pakatan is building its battle line to connect constituencies in the south, centre and north of the state.
The seats are Bakri, Segamat, Muar, Labis and Ledang in the north; Kluang, Batu Pahat and Sembrong in the centre; and Tebrau, Pasir Gudang, Johor Bahru, Pulai, Gelang Patah, Kulai and Tanjung Piai in the south.
These seats are located at either side of the North-South Expressway which is constructed along the west coast of Johor. Most comprise mixed constituencies in urban and semi-urban areas.
Lim's candidacy could create a ripple effect into the surrounding urban constituencies in southern Johor, including Johor Baru, Kulai, Pulai, Tebrau, Pasir Gudang, and even to nearby suburbs like Tanjung Piai.
The challenge for Pakatan will be to extend its targeted “political storm” to constituencies in the centre and north of the state.
It will have to deal with the fact that, in Johor, there is no seat where Chinese Malaysians make up more than 70 percent of the voters, unlike in several other parts of the country.
Twelve of the 15 seats consist of 40 percent Chinese voters - of these the parliamentary constituency of Kulai has the highest percentage at 58 percent, followed by Bakri, Kluang, Gelang Patah and Kulai with more than 50 percent.
Liew Chin Tong, the DAP strategist who will move from Bukit Bendera in Penang to Johor, had predicted that - should Pakatan get 35 percent Malay, 80 percent Chinese and 50 percent Indian support in Johor - 20 parliamentary constituencies will fall like dominoes.
If Pakatan does not field a credible line up of multi-ethnic candidates, the DAP will not be able to achieve the “political storm" on its own. Generally, Malays in Johor are conservative nationalists who view the DAP as a Chinese party.
It is learnt that Pakatan is mobilising more high-profile leaders to contest in Johor, particularly from PKR and PAS which will be tasked with winning Malay support.
PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub and former army chief Gen (Rtd) Md Hashim Hussein, who joined PKR on March 6, are expected to contest in Pulai and Johor Baru respectively.
PKR is likely to send another retired army deputy chief, Lt-Gen (Rtd) Abdul Ghafir Abdul Hamid, to contest Pasir Gudang.
Johor PKR chief and former MCA strongman Chua Jui Meng, who has been out of the public eye since March 18 - when Lim was announced at the Gelang Patah candidate - is tipped to contest Segamat despite his disgruntlement with the seat allocation.
PAS is expected to field a Chinese and an Indian candidates in Johor, in part to ward off the MCA claim that it is an ‘extremist’ party.
The proposed 'rainbow team’ is expected to pose a strong challenge to BN led by Johor Menteri Besar Abdul Gani Othman.
Pakatan's analysis has shown that Malay support for it in previous elections has been abysmal, with only 10-20 percent in certain Malay-majority constituencies.
The Tenang by-election in January 2011, for example, proved that PAS had failed to make inroads into Felda settlements in spite of the efforts of its NGO, Anak, led by Mazlan Aliman (right) who is from Johor.
PAS has since focused its campaign on the second and third generations of Felda settlers, hoping that these better educated young voters can help to offset the political affiliation of their parents.
Pakatan will still need to push up Chinese support to between 70 and 80 percent.
In the 2008 general election, the MCA had won seven, or half, of the parliamentary seats it contested in Johor, despite strong anti-establishment sentiments against BN parties in other parts of the country.
To win the Chinese support, Pakatan will have to get through to guilds and associations which have provided solid support for the BN.
It is learnt that Pakatan is trying to get help from former left-wing political activists generally known as lao zuo (the old left), who are currently involved in the Chinese education movement. They enjoy a good reputation among local Chinese communities.
Battle for new voters
Pakatan is further pinning its hopes on young voters who are working in Johor Baru and Singapore to return to their hometowns to ‘vote for change’. The coalition believes that it has higher support among those exposed to alternative information via cyberspace.
The Pakatan analysis has found that many of them had not registered as voters or did not vote in 2008. However, the unexpected “political tsunami” may lead them to show more enthusiasm this time around.
The 20-40 percent increase in new voters in the parliamentary seats will not necessarily be unfavourable to the BN.
For instance, Sembrong, now held by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, has more than 8,000 new voters, or 25 percent more than in 2008. About 70 percent were registered via political parties, most likely Umno, as Pakatan’s machinery is weak in this rural seat.
There are internal problems that Pakatan must overcome in Johor - the weak grassroots organisation of PKR and PAS; unhappiness among PKR and DAP local leaders over the fielding of 'parachutists' in their constituencies; and seat allocations decided by the central leadership of each party.
A successful battle in Johor will not only help open Pakatan to open the door to Putrajaya, but will also be a litmus test for its credibility as a multi-ethnic electoral force capable of breaking the BN’s dominance of Malaysia's middle ground.