October 16, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – HAS Perikatan Nasional and its chairman, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, lost their political mojo?
After Ramadan, in mid-April this year, there was a feeling that the Opposition coalition consisting of Bersatu, PAS, Gerakan and SAPP could topple Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s fledgling unity government.
The six state polls that took place in August were to be a litmus test of sorts of the support for Anwar.
But, as we know, that contest merely maintained the status quo: Perikatan retained its three states – Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu – and Pakatan Harapan/Barisan Nasional held on to Negri Sembilan, Penang and Selangor.
Perikatan did make up ground in the Malay seats in the three Pakatan states, and it won the concurrently-held Kuala Tereng-ganu parliamentary by-election with a bigger margin than before.
Next came the twin by-elections in Johor for the Pulai parliamentary constituency and Simpang Jeram state seat. Pakatan won both seats. And again, the number of votes for Perikatan increased among the Malay electorate.
It was the same story in the by-election for the Pelangai state seat in Pahang – while Umno kept its stronghold, Malay votes for Perikatan increased.
There are two upcoming by- elections, one for the Jepak state seat in Sarawak in November and another for the Kemaman parliamentary constituency in Terengganu (date yet to be set).
It is a given that Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) will win in Jepak, which is a traditional seat for the party, while PAS will probably win Kemaman with – you guessed it – a bigger majority from Malay votes.
Perikatan is stuck with winning seats via Malay voters. But unlike in Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu where it has a more than 70% monopoly of that community’s votes, it needs the support of non-Malays in states such as Johor, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang, and Pahang.
In the 15th General Election (GE15) in November 2022, Perikatan won one seat each in Sabah and Sarawak where Malays are not the majority. But, arguably, its MPs won those because of the popularity of personalities and not because of the party’s popularity.
For Perikatan to expand beyond winning Malay majority seats it has to win over the non-Malays. But Perikatan – or specifically, PAS – is spooking the non-Malays.
The latest move in this direction is the PAS-led Terengganu government’s decision to disallow female gymnasts from participating in the 2024 Sukma (Sukan Malaysia) Games because of their attire.
Perikatan should stop playing with racial and religious sentiments. It will be limited to winning Malay majority seats if it can’t win over the non-Malays. And without non-Malays it would be difficult if not impossible to form the Federal Government.
Sukma 2024 will be held in August in Sarawak. At stake in Bornean Malaysia in future elections are 57 parliamentary seats – 31 in Sarawak, 25 in Sabah, and one in Labuan. The voters in this part of the country particularly want a more inclusive nation.
The recent by-election results indicate that Perikatan has lost the momentum it gained during GE15. Unlike months ago, diplomats and businessmen no longer ask whether Anwar’s government will last. There’s a feeling that the Pakatan chairman and PKR president’s position as PM is secure.
The unity government began with a two-thirds majority in Parliament: 148 seats compared with Perikatan’s 74. Then Deputy Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s DNAA (discharge not amounting to an acquittal) happened, releasing him from 47 corruption charges. And Muda quit the unity government because the DNAA crossed a “clear red line” and declared itself in Opposition (though the party did not join Perikatan).
So it was unity government 147, Perikatan 74, and Muda one. Anwar’s government had lost its two-thirds majority.
Ah, but then on Oct 12, Perikatan’s Kuala Kangsar MP, Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid of Bersatu, said he supports Anwar’s leadership, giving the usual “demi rakyat” (for the people) reason. The Opposition MP needs the Federal Government’s support to urgently address the rising cost of living in his constituency, it seems.
So with Iskandar Dzulkarnain’s support Anwar is back to holding a two-thirds majority.
Perikatan secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin, who is also Bersatu secretary-general, alleged that the government had pressured Iskandar Dzulkarnain into declaring support for the Prime Minister’s leadership.
Hamzah, the Opposition leader, urged the government to “Cease the abuse of power and intimidation against MPs”, saying such actions run contrary to the principles of democracy.
“It is believed that intimidation and threats were used against the Kuala Kangsar MP to secure his support for the government to regain a two-thirds majority in Parliament,” the Larut MP claimed.
Welcome to karma.
When then Perikatan chairman and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Perikatan chairman and Bersatu president Muhyiddin were prime ministers, Opposition MPs were “persuaded” to jump parties. Hamzah should be aware of how the game is played.
This time, the situation is slightly different. The anti-hopping rule has stopped MPs from jumping parties. But it doesn’t stop them from supporting another coalition.
It will be interesting to see what disciplinary action Bersatu will take against its Kuala Kangsar MP.
In an interview with Time magazine on Wednesday, Anwar said that he is ready to consider making PAS a partner in his unity government.
“Why is there no outrage from the Chinese about Anwar’s invite to PAS?” a diplomat asked me on Friday.
“The Chinese are happy as long as Anwar is PM and DAP is in power. They won’t care if PAS is in the government,” I said.
Anwar successfully persuading PAS to join his government would be the ultimate loss of Perikatan and Muhyiddin’s political mojo.