Better to go solo?

SHOULD Umno contest in GE15 without being in an alliance with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and PAS?

That is the strategic question that is dividing the party.

The kluster kabinet (Cabinet cluster, comprising some of the Umno MPs in the Perikatan Nasional Cabinet) doesn’t think the party can win big in the 15th General Election if it goes solo.

“Before you want to daydream of having a Prime Minister candidate, you have to ask first if the party (Umno) can win or not, ” said Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa, the vocal voice of kluster kabinet, in a Facebook session with Sinar Harian on Thursday.

“We continue to ‘jump’ for Umno to supply the Prime Ministerial candidate but we forgot, to get there the party has to win. The question is simple, can Umno win or not?”

The “kluster mahkamah” (court cluster, ie, Umno members facing corruption charges in court) thinks otherwise.

“Such thinking is weak thinking, lacking confidence and defeatist, ” said Selangor Barisan Nasional information chief Isham Jalil, who is aligned with the kluster mahkamah.

Isham claimed that the Umno grassroots has decided that they want to cut ties with Bersatu.

“If our leaders instead agree to accept Bersatu and sacrifice our seats to give way to those (Bersatu) who have betrayed us, our grassroots will completely reject this move, ” he said.

“If we are forced to (cooperate with Bersatu in GE15), the one who will win is Pakatan Harapan, and we will lose. We cannot allow this to happen.”

Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar contended that Umno’s political scenario was similar to the 2020 Sabah polls. He said there would be a multicornered contest in GE15.

“If Umno fails to reach an agreement to accept conditions set by Perikatan, then Umno and Barisan Nasional will contest solo and not with a coalition of government parties, ” he said.

(Perikatan is a coalition led by Bersatu and comprises Bersatu, PAS, Sabah STAR and Sabah Progressive Party or SAPP.)

The political analyst from Ilham Centre, a political think tank, said that Umno must decide what would benefit the largest Malay party.

“If they join Perikatan, they will have to sacrifice a large number of their seats to Bersatu and PAS. This is the reality that is difficult for Umno to accept, ” he said.

However, he argued that Umno then must forget about dominating the seats. He said they should forget about their president becoming PM and their MPs getting senior minister posts in the Cabinet.

“Participating in Perikatan means the fair distribution of seats in the spirit of an equal partner, ” he said.

Hisommudin noted that Annuar’s argument was reasonable: “Can the image of the leader of the kluster mahkamah who still controls Umno be accepted by the people? His statement also implies that most of Umno’s old leadership may not be candidates if the party wants to achieve victory in the next election. The ruling party should nominate candidates who can win to maximise the number of seats it can contribute, ” he said.

“This is an argument that is hard to accept by most Umno orang lama (veterans) or the kluster mahkamah that still controls Umno divisions and parliamentary constituencies.”

Political analyst Azmi Hassan pointed out that the Perak episode which saw an Umno leader replacing the Bersatu Menteri Besar deepened the rift between the two parties. He said even though the issue has been resolved, it demonstrated how fragile the relationship between Umno and Bersatu is.

“It looks like Umno is more than ever willing to go it alone even without PAS. Since Umno is of the opinion that they have a better chance than Bersatu if both parties decide to part ways in facing GE15, Bersatu seems to be getting ready to go into the election without Umno while at the same time it is courting PAS, ” he said.

“Umno will fare better than Bersatu, but if PAS decides to go with Bersatu all the way and is willing to go against Umno, that is a game-changer.”

I asked Hisommudin to share Ilham Centre’s projection on how many seats Umno could win if it contested alone; if it was with PAS; and if it teamed up with Bersatu and PAS.

The best scenario is the combination of Umno-PAS-Bersatu and GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) moving together as one entity. This is the best formula that allows this coalition to form a stable government easily, he said.

“The advantage of this combination is that they almost completely dominate the Malay-majority constituencies and mixed seats where Malay voters are the decider. The Parliament seats where the majority are non-Malays and mixed seats where the decider are non-Muslims might be a good fight but still favour Pakatan, ” he said.

Hisommudin said the second- best scenario for Umno would be if they collaborate for GE15 with the spirit of Muafakat Nasional (an Umno/PAS alliance).

“Umno and PAS can establish a seat distribution agreement. Bersatu or Perikatan can choose to challenge them in the same seats (as contested by Muafakat Nasional) or pick mixed seats and non-Malay majority seats. Of course, it would be difficult for this scenario to happen, ” he said.

According to Hisommudin, the third scenario is the multiplayer clash: Perikatan clashes with Pakatan, BN and, in some areas, small parties and independent candidates. Umno, he said, would have a slight advantage in the seats it contested. Among them are:

1) In GE14, in some of the seats Umno lost to Pakatan, the Malays who voted for the party previously did not support it because of 1MDB scandal and the kleptocracy image.

“Apart from that, PAS also took away votes from Umno on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and the Islamist party gained in Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and (a little in) Pahang.

“Looking at Umno gaining back its support, it gives psychological confidence that the party can recapture the marginal seats it had lost, ” he said.

2) If it agrees to cooperate with Perikatan, Umno has to abide by the even seat distribution between the three parties (Umno, PAS and Bersatu). Umno will lose the most from this cooperation.

However, if Umno agrees to the ally itself with Perikatan, it can win as a government party but it will remain how it is in the Perikatan government currently, ie, sidelined.

3) In a projected multi-cornered clash, Malay votes would be split into three or four blocks.

“Umno votes will be challenged by PAS or Bersatu. Umno has a slight advantage with the argument that their traditional support is returning. The best figure for the party – if it contests separately from Perikatan – is to win more than 60 parliamentary seats, ” he said.

If Umno does not stay with Perikatan, Hisommudin predicted that there would be no clear winner in GE15. To form a government, the winning parties would have to negotiate with other parties to get a majority.

“This scenario has been mentioned by some Umno leaders who do not deny there will be a new alignment in national politics. This includes Umno teaming up with parties other than Bersatu to form a government after GE15, ” he said.

Hisommudin cautioned that Ilham’s projections are subject to dynamic changes over time.

Umno will need to think hard whether to go it alone in GE15.

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