Factors to consider in strategies for GE15

There are two distinct outcomes of the Malacca state elections to take note of seriously in preparing for the upcoming 15th General Election (GE15).

Firstly, opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) should realise by now that it would be foolhardy for it to go into an election alone. PH, led by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, entered the election without the help of other opposition parties like Pejuang, Muda and Warisan.

Warisan is Sabah-based and could not have been much help but Pejuang and Muda, which are Peninsula-based, could have lent their election machinery or shown their solidarity with PH parties by their presence on the campaign trail. Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s statement that Anwar should consider other opposition parties in seeking cooperation is telling.

Muda had wanted to contest in the state elections under PH but apparently changed its mind when PH decided to accept the two Umno assemblymen from the four who withdrew their support for the Umno-led state government causing the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Ali Rustam to dissolve the assembly and call for fresh elections. The two were then sacked from Umno but PH coalition parties PKR accepted one and Amanah the other.

Muda apparently did not want to be associated with a coalition that accepted the defectors whose action triggered the state elections. Both Muda and PH might have had their reasons for making the decisions they did but Syed Saddiq’s point is worthy of note: PH should consider the sensitivities of its fellow opposition parties rather than choose a course of action where they go it alone.

Pejuang had previously announced it was not participating in the state elections but if PH had cordial relations with Pejuang the latter might have helped in some other ways that might have worked in PH’s favour.

Yet, Pejuang chairman helped from a distance. On the eve of polling day, Pejuang chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad asked for bloc voting (where every MP’s vote is recorded) rather than voice voting in passing Budget 2022 at the policy stage at the Dewan Rakyat. He failed in his attempt because PH MPs bound by the MoU did not vote for it. A minimum of 15 MP’s votes is required before the request is carried through.

If bloc voting was allowed and the Budget was defeated or won by a very close margin it might have affected the votes in the Malacca state elections. A strong united assault by the opposition would have suggested a possibility that it could win and swing more votes to PH.

It was a missed opportunity and we will never know how it would have affected the state elections. It just showed that PH failed to seize an opportunity that offered itself and use it to its advantage. PH demonstrated that same indifference in not voting against the previous Budget last year and in failing to do so legitimised an unconstitutional government. It did the same when former premier Muhyiddin Yassin resigned in August. PH could have approached Sarawak’s GPS to join it to gain a majority or let Warisan president Shafie Apdal take the lead in approaching GPS. That didn’t happen. So, we will never know now if PH could have succeeded on any of these three occasions.

These events were missed opportunities for PH to show it can work with and lead a multi-party coalition to win. If the PH leadership can not demonstrate the resolve to unite the opposition to face GE15, it will be unable to form the next federal government.

Secondly, the bank of votes in Malay-majority constituencies are no longer guaranteed to Umno. According to DAP’s Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming, Barisan Nasional’s (BN) vote share in the Malacca state elections saw only a slight increase of 1%.

However, political analyst Bridget Welsh, who is also an honorary research associate of the University of Nottingham, in her preliminary analysis of the state elections said that while Umno got a 5% increase in votes PKR lost only a small share of the vote, from 10% to 9% in its wiped-out seat losses. In eight seats Umno won by narrow margins of less than 5%.

This suggests that with a concerted and united effort, PH may be able to win back the seats it lost and, perhaps, even win new seats.

Of all the parties that took part in the state elections, it is said that Bersatu performed beyond expectations because it was expected to be wiped out but, instead, won two seats in Sungai Udang and Bemban. Welsh attributes this to the younger voters who were looking for alternatives to Umno and found it in Bersatu.

Bersatu president Muhyiddin however may not be jumping for joy. With all the cash that he poured into the hands of the B40 group during his administration under the guise of covid-19 aid and which continues under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Muhyiddin believed he could make a clean sweep. After all, just before he resigned he did say that “millions” supported him.

That would be a sobering fact that the support he thought he had was illusory.

The Malacca state elections reveal that the Malay-majority voters have seen through the antics of their leaders and have not fallen for it. Voter turnout was low at around 66%; cash aid didn’t tempt voters to surge out of their homes to vote. Fear of covid-19 and being fatigued by self-serving politics could be the reasons for the poor turnout. But, it can also mean that an increasing number of Malay voters are now ready to vote for candidates other than Umno.

If Umno believes its performance in the Malacca polls will be repeated in GE15, it is going to be disappointed. Malay-majority seats will become the battlegrounds in GE15 and it will be fought hard by multiple parties in multi-cornered fights.

Umno, Bersatu, PAS, Amanah and PKR in some cases, and Pejuang will be contesting in the Malay-majority seats. Pejuang has already announced that it intends to contest in 120 of the traditionally Malay seats held by Umno.

Malay votes are going to be split. No one Malay party is going to get a majority to form a government on its own. It will be forced to form coalitions. The Malay parties like Umno, PAS and Bersatu may go it alone and when unable to get a majority will join forces together with Sabah and Sarawak parties, post-elections.

If, however, Pejuang emerges with a significant number of Malay seats, it would be interesting to see how the coalitions change to accommodate it. The first choice of Malay-based parties will be other Malay-based parties, which means PH will only get the leftover parties and it may not be enough to form a government.

It would be in PH’s interests to preempt that possibility by entering the elections with an already firmed-up coalition. Otherwise, it may be left in the cold on the opposition bench.

The Sarawak elections on Dec 18 will see if Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) will slice into GPS’ super majority. If it does, that is another party PH has to consider to form a PH-Plus coalition.

PH should first consider fellow opposition parties like Warisan, Pejuang, Muda and PSB to form a PH-Plus coalition. It will be the only progressive coalition that will be led by both urban and non-urban Malays and represent all the major people groups that make up Malaysia. It will be a formidable coalition that will be hard to defeat.

That is an opportunity that GE15 offers. PH should make sure that it does not become another missed opportunity. It is up to Anwar to make sure that that opportunity happens.

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