KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 7 — Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) long-term viability as a political coalition is in tatters as its ally Umno openly rejects cooperating with Bersatu in any shape or form for the upcoming general elections, according to political observers.
In yet another blow to the Malay parties’ tumultuous relationship, an overwhelming majority of Umno divisional leaders declared over the weekend that they shun any further cooperation with Bersatu and instead prefer to strengthen their alliance with PAS under Muafakat Nasional (MN).
KSI Strategic Institute economic adviser and independent political analyst Prof Hoo Ke Ping said PN now simply cannot survive without the cooperation of Umno as the latter still commands a formidable party machinery and well-established grassroots.
Hoo further explained that Umno knows that its tie-up with PAS under Muafakat Nasional (MN) alone could win a large share of the 128 Malay-majority seats up for grabs in the peninsula.
“That is why Umno is adamant about preserving and strengthening its relationship with PAS under MN instead of working with PN. Mathematically, it makes more sense regardless of the political machinations that happen,” he said.
Hoo also explained that Umno is keen to push Barisan Nasional (BN) forward as it does not wish to sideline Chinese and Indian support.
“At this stage, Umno leaders would not want to risk sidelining non-Malay voters. Their dynamic has changed since PH took over and lost, if past by-elections, such as Tanjung Piai, are anything to go by. We saw close to 30 per cent of Chinese voters returning to BN then and there,” he said.
The Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat returned to BN’s fold in the November 2019 by-election in a result most political pundits saw coming, with the former ruling coalition securing up to 75 per cent of votes, including from several Chinese-majority voting streams.
In the final tally, BN’s candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng from MCA received 25,466 votes to bag a majority of 15,086 over PH’s Karmaine Sardini from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, who received 10,380 votes, confirming pundits’ forecast.
“There is a major push and consideration for MCA and MIC to contest various seats in the coming elections, and these two parties could wrestle 10 seats away easily if the election strategy is sound,” he said.
“So you can see why PN is not a viable choice for Umno; even PAS would consider Umno to be a better option compared to Bersatu,’’ added Hoo.
Prior to the 2018 elections, BN held 130 seats, with 84 of them from Umno, seven from MCA and four from MIC. It had only won 79 seats in GE14, 55 of which belong to Umno.
However, following several defections, mainly an exodus to Bersatu, Umno is now left with 38 seats.
Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has even stated that the party intends to contest 96 seats in GE15.
Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun gave a similar assessment, but further stated that PAS is torn between short- and long-term political goals that Umno and Bersatu could provide.
“In such a scenario, Umno will still win the lion’s share of Malay-majority or substantially Malay seats, with PN sweeping most other such seats, mainly due to support for PAS and handouts accredited to Muhyiddin,” referring to rescue packages announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to cushion the economic impact of Covid-19.
“An Umno-PAS coalition would, of course, win significantly more seats than a Bersatu-PAS coalition, as Umno and PAS’ nationalist and religious appeals would be almost invincible.
“But PAS has a newfound liking for Bersatu and Muyhiddin, as under them, PAS has an unexpected niche such that it could surreptitiously but effectively push forward its religious supremacist agenda, such as the anti-alcohol campaigns in various guises.
“So PAS is in a sense torn between immediately higher short-term gains by partnering with Umno and initially lower but in the longer-term, hopefully steadier returns by partnering with Bersatu — that is if Bersatu could indeed last long,” said Oh.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan told Malay Mail despite Bersatu being in the driver’s seat of the nation’s administration during its tenure with Pakatan Harapan (PH), it can’t seem to woo Malay voters.
“No doubt PAS can comfortably defend seats that it won during GE14, but the same cannot be said for Bersatu. When the party entered GE14, it was touted as an Umno replacement for the Malays,” he said.
“As GE14 results demonstrated, Bersatu failed miserably. Today, even after a few former Umno MPs joined Bersatu, nothing much has changed. And bear in mind, Bersatu had PH supporting its candidates. Bersatu faces an uphill task yet again, as it tries to wrestle Malay votes from Umno.”
Azmi also concluded that it would be more strategically sound for PAS to maintain its ties with MN rather than PN.
“The real threat to PAS is Umno, no doubt. Strategically, it is more prudent for PAS to negotiate seat allocations with Umno rather than going against Umno. So it is better for PAS to be with MN rather than PN,” he concluded.