Pakatan Harapan’s Malay dilemma

Ramli Mohd Nor (centre) celebrating his victory with other Barisan Nasional members at the recent Cameron Highlands by-election. -Bernamapic

MEMO to Pakatan Harapan: You have a Malay problem.

The recent Cameron Highlands by-election, which BN convincingly won, is a wake-up call for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government that says Umno and PAS have a hold on Malay voters.

In the parliamentary by-election, PH managed to obtain only 9.6% of the total Malay votes, based on an analysis by Ong Kian Ming, DAP MP for Bangi.

BN increased its majority from 597 votes in GE14 to 3,238 in the by-election. Its percentage share of votes rose by 13.7%, from 41.0% in GE14 to 54.7% in the by-election.

This, said Ong, was mostly due to BN’s ability to work with PAS and to win most of the votes (approximately 14.3% of the total vote) obtained by the Islamist party in GE14.

Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff noted that the result shows that despite the vast power PH has as the Federal Government, Malays are still not swayed by it.

“They are not convinced that PH can take care of their interests, as opposed to Umno and PAS. It also shows that almost all of the Malay voters who voted PAS in GE14 now do not hesitate to vote Umno,” he said.

Kamarul, however, cautioned that Cameron Highlands does not represent Malays across the country. The constituency, he said, was in Pahang, the bastion of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and many Malays there are Felda settlers whose grouses have yet to be addressed by the PH government.

Political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim agreed.

Abdul Latiff noted that the Malays – traditional and orthodox-conservative – in the constituency are not the type who would vote for PH. It is the moderate and progressive Malays that are more inclined towards Pakatan.

“So if one were to say that the majority of Malays still supports Umno and PAS (in the Cameron Highlands constituency), they actually come from the segment of the traditional-conservative-orthodox population,” he said.

“Hence, when looking at the Malay population, this factor must be recognised, and then strategies need to be worked out to tackle the different groups of people within that population.”

On whether the Umno/PAS combination is a force to be reckoned, Kamarul said it is.

Generally speaking, he argued, PAS members and supporters nationwide have been indoctrinated to heed whatever instructions they get from their leaders.

The difference, he said, is that those on the East Coast and in the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia are much more compliant than those on the West Coast who are more open towards the idea of good governance and co-operation with non-Muslims.

But, Kamarul warned, if PH is strongly perceived as ignoring the interests of Malays and Muslims, it is very probable that even Malays on the West Coast would vote against the Federal Government.

Abdul Latiff said a Malay electorate that is deeply entrenched in orthodoxy, conservatism and tradition that leaves it rather ignorant is the best support base for Umno and PAS.

Besides this overt strategy of working together, he said Umno strategists have actually convinced PAS that for the two parties’ survival, there is no other recourse except to aggressively play the racial and religious card.

“In Malaysia, under our Constitution, Malays are Muslims. This makes it easier for these two parties. Race and religion are manipulated interchangeably to their benefit. The other side is the ‘others’ who are always to be seen as ‘infidels’,” he said.

For the simple, conservative and traditional mind, according to Abdul Latiff, no rational and evidence-based reasons has to be given why the “others” must be hated. They just need to raise the spectre of Malays losing power to the “others”, and them (the Malays) losing everything, he said.

The most convenient party to be flayed is DAP.

DAP suffers from two drawbacks, Abdul Latiff said.

The first is the decades-old stereotyping of the party as anti-Malay and anti-Muslim, so much so that the majority of Malays stay away from the party as they would from pork, for instance.

The second is DAP’s own lack of ingenuity in tackling this DAP-phobia promoted by the leaders of Umno and PAS. Instead, sometimes DAP compounds the problem by making statements that provide fuel to the provocateurs.

Kamarul does not think that it is even necessary for Umno and PAS to take a more hard line approach to maintain or win more support from Malays.

Common issues, he explained, like pinpointing the faults of PH, be it in racial or religious matters, or highlighting the weaknesses of PH, especially its failure to honour its major election promises or the brickbats exchanged between PH component leaders, would be more than enough.

Abdul Latiff believes otherwise.

“Remember, what they are doing is for their political survival, so they have little regard for what happens to the country,” he said.

“Already they have taken the most extreme positions vis-a-vis the Chinese in particular and targeting the DAP.”

By whipping up an anti-Chinese frenzy, he said, Umno and PAS strategists know that their support base will remain intact. If the PH government does not take note of this development and does not re-strategise, those seats with Malay majorities – especially in semi-rural and rural areas – will remain with or return to Umno, he said.

On why PH has a Malay problem, Abdul Latiff said it is partly due to its leaders’ rush to embrace “New Malaysia”, forgetting that the majority of Malays actually might not understand what the concept stands for.

“What has happened over the last eight months under the still fuzzy New Malaysia has been construed by Malays as an erosion of Malay rights and a rise in DAP-led domination (read: Chinese domination) of the nation, as reflected in the appointments of top positions of crucial institutions of the state,” he said.

Kamarul observed that the common perception among Malays is that the non-Malays, especially those from DAP, dominate PH. He also said Malay leaders in Pakatan are perceived to be not powerful enough to do things that could project themselves as the main protectors of Malay and Islam issues.

Just look, he said, at the recent findings by independent research group Ilham Centre.

About 17% of Malay-Muslims picked PKR as the main protector of Malay and Islam issues, 4% picked Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and 3% picked Amanah, compared with nearly 30% that picked PAS, and 27% that picked Umno. And 62.9% of Malays agreed that non-Muslims control the Federal Government after the May 9 elections while 62% believed that the DAP has more influence than other PH component parties on the government’s decisions.

Abdul Latiff feels that giving in to the demands of some NGOs and civil society to immediately dismantle the old ways/structures would be suicidal for the new government.

“May 9 was a ‘revolution at the ballot box’ and not a ‘revolution in the streets’. Hence, sudden change that disrupts decades-old practices is easily manipulated by Umno and PAS to accuse the new government of abandoning the Malays,” he said.

PH could win the hearts and minds of Malays, Abdul Latiff said, by showing – by way of policy – that the government will implement specific programmes for Malays and bumiputeras.

“Special attention should be given to Felda. Rural development programmes must be visible.

“I feel the criticisms against certain underperforming ministers tasked with looking after Malay interests are valid. Perhaps the PM needs to act fast to rectify this,” he said.

Kamarul said PH needs to do things that shows it really cares about the interest of Malays and Muslims, give the impression that Muslims control the Federal Government, and DAP leaders need to appear that they are taking a back seat and be more submissive.

He also said populist moves that could help people deal with their daily lives would also be helpful, as people would not complain that much if they did not have as many financial problems.

Memo to Pakatan Harapan: The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.


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