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UMNO-PAS will win the next general election - Pakatan Harapan is a one term government UMNO-PAS will win the next general election - Pakatan Harapan is a one term government
by Murray Hunter
2019-10-10 07:44:02
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The national unity charter signed last month by long-time political adversaries Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to uphold the interests of Malays and designate Islam as the country’s official religion probably means the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition will be a one-term government.

umno01_400Before the last general election UMNO and the Barisan national were tired and deeply mired in corruption. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, leading his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, tapped into the sense of loyalty many older Malays, gaining trust from the Malay heartlands to save Malaysia from UMNO.  He headed a coalition made up of Anwar Ibraham’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, made up largely of rural moderate ethnic Malays, Parti Amanah Negara, composed of rural ethnic Malays, the Democratic Action Party, dominated by ethnic Chinese, and smaller splinter parties.

Pakatan’s election last year has resulted in one disappointment after another, especially for those who expected political reform. In addition, ugly racial bigotry and religious fervor is on the rise. The Pakatan government is starting to be perceived as betraying those who voted for them as indicated by a series of by-election lossesst year.

Who gave Pakatan the mandate to govern?

The win for Pakatan was not like the 2008 electoral tsunami in which the then Pakatan Rakyat was swept into power across five states, achieving 47.5 percent of the popular vote.  There was no increase in aggregate votes in the recent election compared to previous elections. Pakatan received only 45.68 percent of the popular vote, down on the 50.87 percent in 2013.

However, in a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, what is important is where the votes are cast, rather than the aggregate vote. Pakatan was able to gain enough seats to form a government with PAS contesting every peninsula seat, creating three-cornered contests, diluting the Barisan vote and enabling Pakatan to form the government.

The PAS spoiler strategy thus cost the Barisan dearly. Pakatan picked up seats in the Malay rural heartlands of Kedah, Terengganu, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, and Johor. Only about 20 percent of the seats Pakatan picked up came from urban areas. The rest came from winning four extra in Sarawak and eight from its partner Warisan in Sabah, giving Pakatan a slim majority

Around a dozen UMNO defectors in the following months crossed over mainly to Mahahir’s Bersatu. In addition, defectors from Sabah UMNO, in a near collapse, crossed over to WARISAN giving Pakatan a very comfortable majority in Parliament. Pakatan also won over state governments in Kedah, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, and Sabah.

Pakatan’s new gains built upon the traditional support base of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, anchored in the urban and township areas of Penang, Perak, Selangor, Klang Valley, Selangor, Melaka, and Johor. In East Malaysia, the DAP has a smattering of seats in urban concentrations in Sarawak and Sabah, supplemented with a number of Parti Keadilan Rakyatseats also in the urban and township areas, where support has gradually grown. Pakatan’s traditional support base remains relatively resistant to swings against the coalition, with about 60 or so safe seats. 

Many of the DAP and PKR seats have above-average numbers of registered voters, such as the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Damansara with 121,263 registered voters, where the national average is 67,300.  These seats are gerrymandered and malapportioned to give DAP and PKR seats with large majorities (61-85 percent), thus diluting their national representation.

Pakatan owes its victory not to the faithful urban electors but rather voters from the rural Malay heartlands who listened to Mahathir’s message. A change of government was only actually enabled through the spoiler PAS although Pakatan also owes victory to the voters of Sabah and Sarawak.

Consequently, Pakatan’s reform mandate is more fiction than fact. Pakatan’s real mandate is replacing UMNO with a viable alternative and fulfilling its promises to Sabah and Sarawak. Meeting that mandate to the satisfaction of the swing seats Pakatan picked up last election is the only way it can stay in government.

What is likely to happen next general election

Forecasting three years ahead is fraught, as political dynamics can change very quickly. However, we can employ three simple assumptions:

There will be no three-way political contests between UMNO and PAS

UMNO and PAS supporters will accept the new political alliance, and

General voting patterns can be expected to remain similar to last election.

That would mean Pakatan’s parliamentary representation would decrease from the 121 seats they currently hold to around 83. UMNO-PAS would increase its seats from the current 97 to 123, allowing it to comfortably form the next federal government. Pakatan would also lose Kedah and Perak at the state level along with Melaka. Negri Sembilan would be a cliff-hangar. Pakatan might narrowly hang onto Selangor and lose 12 seats in the Johor State Assembly. DAP would hold onto Penang without any problems.

Five cabinet ministers, Saifuddin Abdullah, Saifuddin Nausution Ismail, Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, Baru Bian, and Mujahad Yusof Rawa would lose their parliamentary seats. Education minister Maszlee Malik and Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq are also be likely to lose. Assuming Mahathir, who would then be 96 or 97 years of age leaves politics, Langkawi would probably go to UMNO-PAS. Mahathir’s son Mukhriz in the neighboring federal seat of Jerlun would also lose his seat, as would Nurul Izzah if she recontests her seat in Permatang Puah. All but one of the UMNO defectors to Bersatu, Mustapha Mohamed would likely and end their political careers.

Bersatu would be decimated to only three seats, Amanah five, PKR 35s. DAP would only lose one seat.

This result would be worse if the trends shown in the last few by-elections are any indication. For example, a 5 percent drop in voter turnout of Malays who supported Pakatan in the past general election would result in the loss of even more seats. A 10-20 percent drop in non-Malay turnout in mixed electorates would lose Pakatan another 10-20.

New voters might offset some of the losses. However, around half of the new voters will be in gerrymandered urban areas. This would favor UMNO-PAS, with new voters in the Malay heartlands identifying much more with their Islamic identity than previous generations.

Pakatan will live and die on Malay-centric politics

Pakatan’s by-election losses in Cameron Highlands, Semenyih, and Rantau indicate that the coalition no longer enjoys the same level of support it had in GE14. The Tanjung Plai seat in the coming by-election in Johor is notionally an UMNO-PAS seat with an approximately 12 percent majority, based on GE14 election figures. In the current environment this deficit for Pakatan would almost be impossible to bridge unless other factors come into the equation, such as the stature of the contesting candidates. A more than probable win to UMNO-PAS would prove the logic behind their alliance is correct.

With many of the seats Pakatan holds being notionally UMNO-PAS, retaining them will be an uphill task, even if Pakatan can improve its electoral popularity. Voters in the Malay heartlands, who are concerned with the cost of living, making an adequate income, and seeing their children get employment after graduation will determine the next election. They don’t understand the 1MDB scandal and the long-running trial. Personal wellbeing, and local infrastructure development are what is important.

Middle-class Malaysians who are disappointed with Pakatan’s failure to deliver reforms are primarily situated in urban and mixed urban/rural seats where incumbent MPs have large majorities. A decline in support by this group won’t result in a loss of too many seats for Pakatan.

The next state election in Sarawak, due by 2021 will indicate the support for Pakatan and UMNO-PAS. Sabah is always a wild card due to the common practice of switching party allegiances by MPs after elections.

UMNO-PAS will play on the insecurities of the rural electorates and paint Pakatan as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, which will be returned by Pakatan politicians with similar rhetoric.  Pakatan can hope that the UMNO-PAS alliance falters and implodes, which could well happen given PAS’s track record with previous alliances. People within UMNO and PAS unhappy with seat allocations will sabotage their own alliance candidates in some seats. Supporters of UMNO may not vote for PAS candidates and visa versa due to deep-seated hate some have for their former adversaries. This is an area that Pakatan must exploit, if they have any hope of holding onto government.

UMNO could be greatly weakened electorally if a number of UMNO members don’t vote because of discontent with the UMNO-PAS alliance. There were many notable UMNO leaders who weren’t at the formalization ceremony. Another issue is the poor credibility of he UMNO-PAS leadership.  

Pakatan could sabotage the UMNO-PAS alliance by seeking the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to order the dissolution of UMNO due to infringements of party election rules. This could greatly weaken the alliance before the election, if there is no time for UMNO to regroup.

The odds are that Mahathir will retire as prime minister in the year before the next general election and not recontest his seat. This would leave Anwar as the spearhead of the Pakatan campaign, which would suit the UMNO-PAS leadership perfectly.

Based on the above analysis, DAP would be left with 41 seats and PKR with 35 seats forming the opposition with a handful of Amanah and Bersatu MPs. The Mahathir era would be finished with little legacy to show. His party Bersatu would be almost destroyed without any strong successor to rebuild it. Anwar may hold the office of prime minister for a short time, fulfilling his ambition. PKR would have to rebuild the party in the post-Anwar era. Which way the party goes will depend on which faction comes out stronger electorally.

The percentage of Malays in the general population has been steadily increasing over the years. Malays represent just over 50 percent of Malaysia’s population. Malay-centric politics will be necessary to win elections. The big question is whether there are any alternative Malay-centric narratives which accommodate reform that would be acceptable to the portion of the electorate that is the king maker, the Malay heartlands?  Otherwise Malaysia will be trapped in the current racist-Malay-Islamic rhetoric.  

Originally published in the Asia Sentinel





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