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Analysis, Opinion, Politics

Mother of all elections begins in Malaysia

THIS is not the first general election that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is leading yet he looked so tense and coiled up when announcing the dissolution of Parliament.


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Updated: April 11, 2018

Some thought the Prime Minister, now in caretaker mode, looked rather worried and the solemn look on his deputy Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi only added to the situation.

Yet this is one election that Barisan Nasional, especially Umno, is super prepared for if the accounts coming out of their recent nationwide election dry run is anything to go by. They have got everything down to a T, from a tuned-up campaign machinery to locating their “white voters” whom they have to fetch to the voting centre on polling day.

So why the oh-so-serious looks on the faces of the two men?

 For a start, this will be the mother of all elections. The ruling coalition is facing a formidable opposition led by former Premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, an old fox who has had more experience running a general election than anyone else.

As one analyst after another has pointed out, GE14 will basically be a Malay fight. It will be a Malay battleground where issues of race and Islam will ride alongside concerns about the rising cost of living.

Whoever commands the Malay ground will have the advantage.

“This general election will be decided by how the Malays vote,” said KRA strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim.

Barisan has been putting out full-page colour advertisements in the newspapers, touting the accomplishments of the government, with individual ministers airing what their ministries have done. It is to show that this is a government of teamwork.

No one really believes that Barisan will lose the general election but the burden is heavy on Najib’s shoulders to do better than the 133 parliamentary seats won in 2013. Anything less will spell trouble for him. And if Barisan takes back one of the opposition states, that would be a bonus.

But Najib is not alone in looking stressed. Dr Mahathir is also feeling the pressure. Of late, the 92-year-old Pakatan leader seems rather forgetful of facts and there are days when he has problems pronouncing certain words, including the name of his coalition.

But he is still a big name, and dominates every single press conference held by Pakatan Harapan leaders. It is apparent his persona has taken over the opposition coalition.

As the ex Prime Minister, he should be focusing on what Pakatan has to offer to voters than hurling insults and accusations at the party he used to lead and, of course, at Najib.

Dr Mahathir also seems to have thrown caution to wind and says outrageous things not usually associated with statesmen.

Just recently, he hit out at the police and armed forces whom he accused of supporting Najib. He drew on the analogy of how the army only turned against Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos following the assassination of a key political opponent.

He questioned whether the Malaysian security forces are waiting for someone to be assassinated – he did not exclude himself – before they come to their senses. It was not the best of ways to win over the nation’s security forces.

Only Datuk Seri Hadi Awang has managed to stay calm in the way of terribly religious people – he is leaving it in the hands of God.

The PAS president announced on Friday that his Gagasan Sejahtera coalition will be contesting 130 out of 222 Parliamentary seats.

The Malay battleground states are Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and parts of Johor and Perak. The Malay heartland states that are perceived to be in danger include Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

“Going by ceramah crowd size, Mahathir’s party is bigger than Amanah but the battle is between PAS and Umno. The chances of Umno losing Terengganu is there but when I go around Terengganu, there is not much interest at all,” said political commentator Dr Azmi Omar.

The Malay parties thrashing it out are Umno, PAS, Pribumi and Amanah.

But everything changed on Thursday with the stunning announcement that Pakatan partners would be contesting under the PKR logo.

Amir thought it was fake news when he learnt about it but it turned out to be all too true. The shock waves are still reverberating through members and supporters of the parties in Pakatan.

There was also outrage over the Registrar of Societies (RoS) move against Pribumi. Many people felt it was an overkill and that RoS was pressing the levers of power too hard.

The act, said a Malay professional, is reminiscent of what Dr Mahathir used to do to the opposition when he was the Prime Minister.

The idea that DAP is giving up its rocket symbol for what the Penang Hokkiens call “lam bakchew” or blue eye, is still sinking in. It was a top-down decision, and it will take time for DAP supporters to accept it.

The man who designed the party’s rocket symbol, Goh Hock Guan, died late last month and now the rocket is being put to rest.

DAP does not have to adopt a new logo. It is not under threat of dissolution like Pribumi and DAP leaders say they are doing it out of solidarity.

But politics is rarely so altruistic and it looks more like a strategy to shock voters out of their lethargy, to make them jump up to save the party.

The other thing is that Dr Mahathir’s party has been unable to create a much-needed momentum on the Malay ground, let alone bring on a Malay tsunami. He was brought in to swing the Malay votes for Pakatan and to help DAP hold on to some of the mixed seats the party won in 2013.

But Pribumi is struggling even in their frontline state of Johor. A survey by a Singapore think-tank found that only 21% of Malays support Pribumi compared to 67% for Umno and 48% for PAS. Only a mere 5% of Malays accept DAP.

The PKR logo is more acceptable to the Malays than the rocket and the move could help swing some Malay votes to DAP.

In Seremban, for instance, 30% of Malays accept DAP incumbent Anthony Loke but his party is accepted by only 18% of Malays. Loke, who is up against MCA’s Chong Sin Woon, will benefit if he contests under the PKR logo.

In short, using the PKR logo may make DAP candidates more palatable to the Malays.

One person who has been quite delighted with what is happening is PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali. The new development will give his party a newfound clout throughout the peninsula. Should Pakatan retain Selangor again, it will be hard for DAP to object to Azmin returning as Mentri Besar. After all, they had won on the PKR ticket.

The Malay vote shift began in 1999 when Malays rejected Dr Mahathir for sacking Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Many moderate and professional Malays who otherwise would have drifted into Umno chose to join PKR and PAS.

The drift has continued in drips over the years and GE14 will be the test of whether the drip can turn into a flow for the very man who started the drip.

Anwar is missing all the action out here but he must be having the last laugh. Dr Mahathir has had to eat humble pie many times over when it comes to the man he had sacked and called a sodomist.

He is now eating the ultimate humble pie – compelled to contest under the banner of the very party he tried to stamp out when he was Prime Minister.

There are all sorts of jokes and videos of him circulating in social media that are not very flattering to him, poking fun at his age and the way he tries to rewrite his own history.

Many of these jokes are generated from the Umno side but make no mistake, Umno takes Dr Mahathir seriously.

The Malay battle might have been easier to predict were it not for the Mahathir factor. Whether the Mahathir factor is more hype than real will be known soon.

But Barisan’s preparedness to win the GE14 is no hype.

Last night, Najib unveiled his game changer, the Barisan manifesto, which a senior editor described as an “offer that Malaysians will find hard to say ‘no’ to”.

“The document is all things to all men. As journalists, we have seen politicians make all kinds of promises during elections, but the difference is that this manifesto is about things that can be done,” said the above editor.

Najib zeroed in on all the key segments of votes that he wants to woo, including Felda which affects parliamentary seats, women who carry half the sky, Sabah and Sarawak which have 56 parliamentary seats between them, and the youth generation. It also addresses the pressing concern over cost of living issues.

Najib has stayed focused through the last five years which have been one long political campaign.

He has unveiled his report card of delivery and he is now presenting what he has to offer in the next five years.



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The Star
About the Author: The Star is an English-language newspaper based in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

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