It was a foregone conclusion that Pakatan Harapan (PH) would lose the Tanjong Piai parliamentary by-election. The fact that the non-Malays abandoned the PH coalition partner Bersatu candidate Karmaine Sardini was nothing unexpected. What was mind-jolting was that the Malays rejected PH, and, particularly, Bersatu.
Bersatu apparently expected to lose. Prime Minister and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the party had thought it would lose about 2,000 votes. But to have lost by a wide margin of about 15,000 votes was a shocking result.
The PM was fully aware that promoting the Malay first strategy by appeasing the Malays and antagonising the non-Malays by not endorsing the reforms promised in the PH manifesto would result in a loss of non-Malay support. He must have thought that the Malay first strategy would bring in the Malay votes to make up for the loss.
In the Tanjong Piai by-election it has become crystal clear that the all-arching Malay first strategy was not enough to satisfy the Malays. They had other concerns that were more important. All of Bersatu’s overtures to draw Umno members over to its side failed. Bersatu needs to find out why Malay voters rejected its candidate despite its efforts to pacify them, even at the expense of the non-Malays.
The fact is that the Malay first strategy is outdated and no longer relevant to people who just want the economic means to get ahead and to maintain their way of life without bothering others. In other words, the Malay first strategy with its accompanying Malay rhetorics and deafening silence on and non-commitment to urgent immediate reforms should be put paid.
We shouldn’t hear of it anymore. Instead, PH needs to go back to its GE14 manifesto and start delivering to the people as promised. It needs to prioritize stimulating the economy and introducing the reforms it has so far shelved, such as ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), rethinking its position on Zakir Naik (frankly, if he is an Indian citizen, he should be sent back!) and expediting the setting up of the task force to investigate the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Perlis activist Amri Cne Mat.
It is imperative that the PH government restores the trust of the people by doing the above. If it doesn’t, the coming Sarawak state elections might be another disastrous outing for the PH.