Between a rock and a hard place


  • Nation
  • Monday, 13 Jul 2020

PARTI Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia MP Datuk Dr Abd Latiff Ahmad’s claim that Umno – the party that launched his political career – was no longer popular in Sabah triggered much emotional feedback by Umno members in the state.

Aside from open rebuke on social media, he also earned the wrath of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who declared that Mersing, Abd Latiff’s seat, was no longer Bersatu’s.

“Even though you jumped, there is no need to say this, YB Minister. We will take Mersing back,” he said.

The sting was even more painful after Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi landed yet another blow, refusing to accept Abd Latiff’s apology and declaring that Umno would take the Mersing parliamentary seat.

Who could blame Umno leaders for going ballistic?

After all, Abd Latiff won the Mersing seat on a Barisan Nasional ticket in the 14th General Election (GE14).

Such a remark was clearly seen as a slight to Umno grassroots, who had stayed loyal to the party despite seeing substantial defections from what was seen as a sinking ship immediately after GE14.

To cool emotions, Umno vice-president and Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob attempted to mediate matters by downplaying Abd Latiff’s remarks as a personal one.

It remains to be seen whether Umno grassroots would be magnanimous enough to set aside such an insult, even in the face of Abd Latiff’s apology.

Talk of demanding traditional Umno seats held by Bersatu MPs has echoed among Umno grassroots lately, with group chats, which included prominent leaders even detailing a list of “hot seats” they want to “reclaim” from their former members who had defected.

These are seats held by MPs who jumped to Bersatu, such as Mersing, Bagan Serai, Masjid Tanah, Jeli, Tasik Gelugor, Hulu Terengganu, Larut, Sabak Bernam, Tanah Merah and Labuan.

“The grassroots still see Bersatu as a traitor. These are the grassroots who don’t think about politics. All they think about is loyalty and principles,” said the source.

“They just can’t accept those who abandoned the party the moment it lost power.”

Aside from party hoppers, would Umno be able to cooperate with the very party which collaborated with Pakatan Harapan to defeat Barisan in GE14?

Dr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow, Singapore Institute of International Affairs, is sceptical that Bersatu would receive Muafakat Nasional’s support en bloc in the event of a snap election.

“I think Bersatu would have very little standing in such a coalition.

“In fact, next to nothing in the level of support because they rode to their success in the last general election on a Pakatan Harapan ticket and the reform wave,” he said.

“Now, they are in collusion with the very parties that they tried to topple in the last general election.

“The few supporters that Bersatu has would see through this. So, I don’t think they will play a meaningful and significant role in the next general election,” he added.

It is crucial for Bersatu to be accepted in the Muafakat Nasional alliance between Umno and PAS, as its success has been proven in several by-elections, namely Semenyih, Cameron Highlands, Rantau, Tanjung Piai, Kimanis, and most recently, Chini.

Barisan Nasional’s victory in the Chini by-election was expected and so was the huge majority obtained by the coalition.

The 12,650 votes more than double that obtained by Barisan in the last general election, and it has driven home the point of the lethal combination of Umno and PAS.

The latest victory in Chini, ahead of a possible snap election, must have certainly boosted their confidence.

Eighty-two parliamentary seats where Pakatan, Umno and PAS squared off in GE14 have more

than 65% Malay voters, while 249

of the 299 state seats have 65% or more Malay voters.

Moreover, with the new political landscape following the fall of the Pakatan Federal Government in February, more Pakatan seats could be at risk if Bersatu were to be accepted by Muafakat Nasional.

Oh said PAS and Umno contested against each other in previous general elections, and they had lost a number of seats to Pakatan parties by a slim majority.

“Now that they are working together, their true levels of support will be manifested better,” he said.

“It is not only shown in the Chini by-election, but also in the previous half-dozen by-elections.”

Should an unprecedented snap election be called soon, Oh said the PAS-Umno combination would be the right combination to garner more seats than they did in GE14.

“In that sense, I think PAS is content to play a low-key coalition partner in exchange for pushing the various religious agenda and so on,” he added.

Universiti Sains Malaysia Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said the Muafakat Nasional framework was tested during the Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Tanjung Piai by-elections, and was at its peak in the Chini by-election.

He also conceded that the PAS and Umno machinery would play a big role in campaigning for the Perikatan government in event of a general election.

“Both Umno and PAS have good manpower, logistics and machinery. They will be able to reach larger audiences, and their agenda-setting will be more holistic,” he said, adding that the Chini by-election result was an indicator that their Malay supporters are growing.

However, given Bersatu’s past as a Pakatan coalition partner and the way Umno was treated following GE14, questions are being raised as to whether Bersatu would have a place in Muafakat Nasional in the coming general election.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman gave the assurance that the cooperation between Muafakat Nasional and Bersatu was intact as they have agreed not to fight each other in the general election.

“All the three parties (PAS, Umno and Bersatu) will be together, not fighting each other but for a common goal, which is to win the elections,” he said.

“We cannot be divided.”

Tajuddin also played down

factional politics in Umno, saying that factions would always exist everywhere, but that Umno will remain united when it comes to the polls.

“Like it or not, every party has factions. But when it comes to elections, all factions will unite. This is similar in Umno,” he said.

However, Umno’s top leaders must not lead their grassroots by the nose and turn a deaf ear to their concerns.

If Umno decides to lend its support en bloc to Bersatu via the Muafakat Nasional machinery, its MPs and top leaders have much to convince its grassroots to be on board with the party leadership.

Otherwise, Umno’s grassroots could end up as the trojan horse within Perikatan Nasional.

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