It can be easily concluded from the exposés by Umno politicians of their leaders that their party, Umno, is heading towards self-destruction. That may happen in the future but unlikely in the imminent future such as in the coming general election.
The point to note is that it is not the leaders who determine Umno’s political standing. Leaders come and go but it is the supporters who ensure that whoever stands representing Umno in their constituency gets voted in to represent them in government.
Since Merdeka, Malay voters in the traditional rural heartland have been ingrained with the belief that Umno is the only Malay party that represents them and that their support ensures Malay dominance in government. That thinking has not changed and until it is challenged, the rural vote is expected to go to Umno despite the fact that its leaders are facing criminal charges in court.
If Umno politicians are honourable and rise up to the trust their voters unquestioningly place in them, they will hold party elections and change the top leadership. If they can’t solve party issues, how then can they govern a nation and solve national issues?
The hope is that rural voters will be able to see that their leaders aren’t acting on behalf of their supporters but for their own interests. If they can see it, then, there’s a good chance that they may not vote for Umno.
The only way to make them see the truth before their eyes in order to defeat Umno is for other Malay parties to contest the same seats Umno contests and present an alternative to Umno.
The only parties that can do that are Bersatu, Pejuang and Warisan. If past elections are anything to go by, Bersatu seems to have lost support and the small parties, Pejuang and Warisan, remain untested.
Yet, that is the only way to defeat Umno — put another Malay candidate against the Umno candidate and go on an anti-corruption campaign that the voters can understand and relate with, together with their nasi periok issues.
This is Pejuang’s strategy. If it works, it may succeed in swinging some seats away from Umno as Bersatu under former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad succeeded in swinging about 10% of the rural Malay vote to Pakatan Harapan (PH) and enabled it to form the first PH government.
If the PH-government was short-lived, the underlying factor was its inability to hold on to the 10% Malay swing vote. It went back to Umno because Umno politicians went to town claiming that the PH government was dominated by non-Malays — a sufficient argument to spook the Malay voter!
Opposition parties understand this but their supporters may not. Opposition candidates may need to explain the realities of Malay politics to their constituents so that there is give and take between Malay and non-Malay parties rather than the typical confrontational standoff.
Malay-based opposition parties like PKR and Amanah could stand in the Malay rural seats if they are able to reach the Malay voter base but if they go on a campaign of good governance and reforms it will fall on deaf ears! The rural Malay voter wants to know if his/her nasi periok issues take priority.
There is, however, one particular demographic that has been largely overlooked — the Malay urban voters who, according to the 2020 census, are a majority and underrepresented in Parliament. PKR and Amanah, perhaps, need to target this voter base and win them over.
It’s a tough task but not impossible to achieve.
If opposition parties don’t change their strategies and convincingly reach out to Malay voters, the trend to vote for Umno will continue.