Two factors will weigh heavily on the opposition’s chances in the forthcoming nationwide elections. One, the absence of Islamist PAS from the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan, and, two, the imminent presence of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in Pakatan.
The first has got to be major negative for Pakatan – PAS did after all get 21 Parliament seats in the last elections although this has now been whittled down to 14 when seven MPs defected to form the breakaway Parti Amanah Negara.
The second is a rather iffy, questionable, doubtful alliance with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, with the common aim being the removal of Najib Abdul Razak as prime minister. Both of them were unable to move Umno enough to remove Najib as president – hence this partnership of convenience.
Under the Federal Constitution, the 13th Parliament will automatically dissolve on June 24, 2018, exactly five years after its first sitting and the 14th general election, or GE14, has to be held within two months, that is by Aug 24 next year.
That means GE14 has to be called within the next 17 months. That’s the maximum amount of time that the opposition has to put its house in order before facing the BN ruling coalition at the next polls. Will they be able to do much during that time? And will it be enough?
Amanah, which is being branded as the face of more progressive Islam, has seven MPs and is being positioned to take over from PAS as the mainstay party in the Malay heartland areas of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah as PAS exits the Pakatan coalition.
Still PAS is among the oldest parties in Malaysia and has a brand and name which cannot be underestimated among more fundamental Muslims. In a worst-case scenario, Pakatan may have to make good 21 seats just to maintain its previous tally in Parliament of 89 seats at the end of the GE13 in May 2013.
Pakatan can ill afford to lose as many as 21 seats – nearly a quarter of its total tally – from PAS effectively crossing over to form an informal alliance with Umno – two of the strongest Malay-based parties in peninsular Malaysia.
Amanah remains unproven and in its first outing in the Sungai Besar parliamentary by-election in June last year it garnered some 24 percent of votes, which was higher than PAS’ 22 percent, but with BN taking 53percent and easily retaining the seat. Imagine how powerful Umno and PAS are going to be when they join hands.
Pakatan should have done a lot more to keep PAS within the fold. Admittedly that became a lot more difficult with the passing of PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat in February 2015, often considered a moderating influence in PAS and one who was opposed to working with Umno.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang however considers the furthering of Islam above all, something which Umno deftly employed to entice PAS into an alliance of sorts as PAS and Pakatan, with DAP in the frontline, saw a steady deterioration in relationship.
The loss of PAS will cost Pakatan dearly at the state level too – in Selangor for instance, or any attempt to retake Perak and Kedah. It is not something that can be easily offset by including Bersatu in the alliance – a bond already sullied as the principal actors in the plot here have a rather ignominious past. In fact, it will be correct to say that Pakatan was formed to fight the likes of them – and did in the past.
Bereft of ideological bond
For Pakatan to ally with them is to condone their past actions – Mahathir’s draconian ways are directly responsible for the erosion of governance in the country while he was the man most responsible for the incarceration of the de facto opposition leader now and Mahathir’s once deputy, Anwar Ibrahim. Muhyiddin’s record is dubious, especially in Johor as menteri besar, where there were some shady land deals.
There is no ideological bond between Pakatan and Bersatu and removing Najib as prime minister is a rather unsteady common platform. If they come to power, what then? Does Mahathir become PM or Muhyiddin or Anwar or someone else? That unlikely event may cause more problems than ever.
And even before it can materialise there is a question of how Pakatan can gel the idea of cooperating with Mahathir and Muhyiddin into the persona of Malaysians who have viewed them previously as the very antithesis of what Pakatan stands for.
Or does that not matter anymore to Pakatan leaders? If it does not then Pakatan should be prepared to see even further erosion of support as the differentiation between it and Umno narrows further, blurring the distinctions which keep them apart.
At the end of GE13 in May 2013, BN had 133 seats, down seven from 2008, against Pakatan’s 89, up seven. But Umno increased its number of seats to 88 from 79, indicating a shift of Malay votes back to it. Popular vote turned in favour of Pakatan which got a majority of 50.9 percent (47.4 percent in 2008) against BN’s 47.4 percent (51.4 percent in 2008) but that was not enough to gain power because of disproportional representation, which makes Malay votes in the peninsula and bumiputera votes in east Malaysia count for more, as well as past gerrymandering.
Pakatan was not far away from power with PAS in it but it is much further away from power without PAS even if it has Amanah and Bersatu in the fold.
What is disappointing is that since 2008, when it became obvious it had a chance to win future elections, it has not had a strategy to get support where it counts – in the Malay heartland and in Sabah and Sarawak for instance. At the end of the day, that is what will thwart it from getting power in the GE14.
Even so, polls are not easy to predict – whoever thought Pakatan will do so well in 2008? And who knows how much damage 1MDB and all its attendant ramifications have had on Umno’s and BN’s credibility.
But whenever the elections, fight indifference and inertia – don’t forget to exercise your choice or you might end up losing your voice.
P GUNASEGARAM believes that ideals and policies that appeal are paramount in elections. That’s how a black man became president of the US against all odds. But misinformation and not casting your vote can be disastrous. That’s how a bigot became the president of the US against all odds.
Source : @ Malaysiakini