Bersatu’s big Perikatan Nasional gamble


  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 28 Jun 2020

A lot is at stake for the party with its plan to formalise a political coalition but it is confident in moving forward.

THE conventional wisdom is that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is a weak political party. Many dismiss its chances of winning seats in the 15th General Election (GE15).

Sacked Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad predicted that Umno would fight his former party in GE15. The former Prime Minister said Bersatu would be left dangling without the support of Pakatan Harapan.

“Not only (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) will lose but all Bersatu candidates will be defeated, ” he wrote in his blog, chedet.cc, on Thursday.

However, a Bersatu politician thinks otherwise. He said the strategy to move forward for his party post-Dr Mahathir is to formalise the current Perikatan Nasional alliance into a coalition comprising political parties currently in the Muhyiddin government.

“It offers a new solution, ” said the politician who did not want to be identified.

“It is a new coalition in which the three main parties at the forefront are Malay parties – Bersatu, PAS and Umno. It is back to what Barisan Nasional was before. The only difference is it is no longer headed by a big Malay party, which is Umno.”

Umno now has to share power with Bersatu and PAS, he contended: “Umno must realise, whether it likes it or not, that it will never go back to the era where there were 70 to 80 Umno MPs in Parliament, ” he said.

Wouldn’t the party need Dr Mahathir to win seats like he did in GE14 when Bersatu won 13 seats?

“Yes, we acknowledge that the charisma of Tun Mahathir tilted the balance to the extent that PH (Pakatan Harapan) won. But that’s GE14. We’re talking about GE15. Now is the chance to move forward. And what we are offering is PN (Periktan), ” he said.

The Bersatu politician explained that the coalition Muhyiddin is trying to hammer out would comprise the 12 parties that are currently a part of the Perikatan government: Bersatu, Umno, PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (PBB, PRS, SUPP and PDP), MCA, MIC, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah, Parti Bersatu Sabah and Sabah STAR.

Gerakan could be invited into the coalition after it is established.

A source in Perikatan told me that the Constitution and logo of the new coalition are ready. He said that the coalition’s Prime Minister candidate in GE15 is Muhyiddin.

“There is also a general understanding now that the parties are ready to register without waiting for Umno, ” he said.

The Perikatan source said some factions in Umno are opposed to joining the new coalition. These factions want the party to be with Muafakat Nasional and Barisan in GE15.

(Muafakat Nasional is a pact between Umno and PAS. Barisan consists of Umno, MCA, MIC and PBRS.)

The Bersatu politician believes that the model offered by Perikatan is much more attractive to other political parties than the one offered by Umno.

“Umno is no longer the dominant Umno of the past. It is a brand that has problems. The other parties in Muafakat Nasional and Barisan need to work hard to rectify the liabilities of Umno, ” he said.

What about the argument that Umno and PAS do not need Bersatu, and it is Bersatu that needs Umno and PAS because if you combine just, say, Umno’s 35% and PAS’ 30% of total Malay votes, the two parties have 65% of the Malay votes?

For instance, based on GE14 results, not including Langkawi (won by Dr Mahathir), Pagoh (won by Muhyiddin) and Muar (won by Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman), Bersatu won the other seats because the Malay votes were split between Umno and PAS. It looks like Bersatu does not have the strength to win, I pointed out.

Unfazed, the Bersatu politician said those results were obtained by adding up Umno and PAS numbers. “Why don’t you add Bersatu and PAS votes?” he said.

It is an interesting question.

Let’s take the Jerlun parliamentary seat that former Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir won in GE14. Mukhriz of Bersatu got 18,695 votes, Abdul Ghani Ahmad of PAS got 12,829 votes and Othman Aziz got 12,413. So Mukhriz won the seat with a 5,866 majority. If you take Bersatu votes and PAS votes and add them up, a Bersatu candidate arguably can win the seat. If you add the Umno and PAS votes, an Umno candidate can arguably wrest back the seat from Bersatu.

Still unconvinced, I pointed out that if Umno left the Perikatan government, it would collapse because it looks like most of the parties in the Perikatan government will stick with Umno, as Umno is a stronger party than Bersatu. Which means Bersatu would be left out of Umno’s coalitions.

The Bersatu politician conceded that Umno is a “big party” and it is “well organised”. “But it can’t dominate the conversation anymore because there are now three major Malay parties (Umno, Bersatu and PAS). GPS is another big block. The reality is, we are talking to PAS and other parties to form Perikatan, ” he said.

Perhaps the other parties are talking to Bersatu because the Prime Minister is Muhyiddin, who is the president of Bersatu – so what happens if Muhyiddin is no longer PM?

“You must remember that Barisan had 13 parties. It is now down to four. Why? Because the other parties left because of Umno, ” he said.

How soon would GE15 be called?

“I’d say do it this year, ” the Bersatu politician said.

“But I think it will be within the next 12 months. Tan Sri (Muhyiddin) wants a fresh mandate and a bigger majority of about 150 to 160 seats (out of 222 seats), ” he said.

If Muhyiddin can’t cobble together a new Perikatan coalition, Bersatu faces the huge risk of contesting GE15 on its own.

However, the politician did not seem very worried: “For now, there is nothing to worry about that. It is only some individuals in Umno who feel threatened by the coalition. Other parties are moving ahead smoothly, ” he said.

From talking to Umno and Bersatu politicians, it appears that the Perikatan coalition is Muhyiddin’s big gamble for GE15. If the coalition collapses, so will his ambition to remain Prime Minister.

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