In a powerful analysis of local politics and Malay emotions, Redzuan Shamsudin in Suara Keadilan says not much has changed in the past 30 years in Malaysia.
He says ex-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is a champion in ‘game-changing’ tactics in Malaysian politics. But Anwar Ibrahim, the PKR leader, is not far behind in tactical terms.
However, Mahathir is more successful in power-grabbing than Anwar perhaps because Mahathir commands more support among Malays in the Malay belt and in rural areas.
FEEL GOOD FACTOR
PM Muhyiddin Yassin
It is however definite that Mahathir and Anwar are more successful in playing the Malay emotions than Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Ku Li.
However, it appears that something else has not changed in Malaysia. And this is our observation. The feel-good factor.
PM Muhyiddin Yassin seems to have the benefit of the doubt in the Malay community and among non-Malays.
The result of the Slim River by-elections with the thumping victory for the Barisan Nasional is proof of that.
Nevertheless, lets get back to Malay politics.
The Tengku created the Parti Melayu Semangat 46, a Malay based party after he lost a fight against Mahathir for the party leadership.
He was dismissed, along with a number of political figures, from the Umno after the party was de-registered, a move said to be linked to Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir caused the deregistration of Umno only to create Umno-Baru or a new Umno that did not bring Razaleigh and partners in as members.
But S46 was short-lived and Razaleigh rejoined Umno right on the cusp of events that lead to the formation of the Reformasi movement.
THE NEXT GAME CHANGER
Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS Leader
The biggest game-changers Anwar brought to the local political scene is the formation of the Pakatan Rakyat. He succeeded in bringing the PAS and the DAP in the PR.
This had a great effect in townships, cities and some villages. In 2008, Anwar was instrumental in causing the Barisan Nasional to lose its two third majority.
The BN also lost many states that fell to the PR, The PAS was on the roll and the DAP had a firmer footing in Penang while the PKR aided by the DAP and PAS won in Selangor.
In 2013, the Pakatan Rakyat won the popular vote but lost in terms of the number of seats in Parliament. It was a feat only Anwar achieved, that is to snatch the majority of votes from the BN.
In 2018, Mahathir did better than Anwar with the Pakatan Harapan with the PAS and with the newly created Bersatu winning the elections. But the PH did not win the majority of the popular vote.
The game-changer in 2018 was that Mahathir made a comeback as a PM candidate after almost two decades in retirement.
Shamsuddin says it is Malay emotions that caused the Umno and BN to lose in 2018.
But perhaps the emotions were not motivated enough, because the Umno was not flattened. Najib won his seat and is still an MP though he is a convicted politician.
The question is what will be the biggest game-changer in the next elections?
Will it be Mahathir’s Pejuang, which is already causing massive pain to the Bersatu. Or will it be another antic by Anwar Ibrahim?
ANWAR’S GAME CHANGER?
Anwar is probably counting on a wave of distress among PAS and Umno members.
When the elections are near, more cracks will appear in the ruling coalition because the Umno and the PAS would want a controlling majority in the next government.
To achieve that, they would seek the biggest share of the seats, squeezing Bersatu into areas where they may be defeated.
There are hopes among the opposition and among Pejuang also that the base of Umno and the PAS will be shaken by the coalition between both parties.
But the base remained intact in all the by-elections that took place since the Umno-PAS joined forces.
Mahathir has already achieved the first phase of his ‘game-changing’ strategy. He killed the Bersatu grassroots. But he failed to get any of the Bersatu MPs to quit the party.
Losing in Slim River does not make his task easier, but that is not the end of Mahathir.
The focus is then on what will Anwar offer to counter the ‘feel good’ factor and the powerful union between the Umno and the PAS?
Let’s face it. There is no devastating erosion of the Umno-PAS grassroot that has been noted since their union.
The PKR saw the explosion of many of its bases that followed the 11 MPs who joined Bersatu. But the party is still going strong, says the leaders.
Yet, the Pakatan Harapan is on a destructive mode. It lost Mahathir who is decided for now to be on his own with Pejuang.
Without Mahathir, with the DAP on a slide and losing support from a segment of the Chinese community and the Malays purely in support of Najib Razak, the hero, what is left for Anwar?
We believe that Anwar has very limited choices. Either he gets Mahathir on board to accept him as the future PM and anoint Mukhriz Mahathir as the deputy PM, or he pulls a massive surprise.
Pulling the PKR apart from the PH and leaving it to the DAP-Amanah and possibly for Mahathir to rejoin it will be a shocker.
This will mean the PKR will go alone in the next general elections, no matter what. It will open the door for more PKR members and reformasi members to get a fair seat in the elections.
The PKR can then negotiate with the PH and or Pejuang (If Mahathir do not rejoin PH without Anwar) on seats and areas to contest.
There are risks in both strategies but they are worth taking. A large segment of the Malaysian population is fed-up with the attitude of the DAP and the Amanah.
They are also unhappy with the PN of Muhyiddin Yassin and may not accept most of the 11 MPs from PKR and the Bersatu MPs that broke the PH.
But they still have the Umno-PAS and may vote for them massively because of the DAP’s dominance in the PH.
Unless Anwar accepts to play a pro-Malay stance, lessening the DAP’s grip on its policies and leaders, we do not see how the PKR would regain its strength among the Malays.
The big question is, whether, after 20+ years the PKR is ready to mature as a strong party that can decide on its future without the baggage that it has carried since the inception of the PR?