Umno, DAP, PKR make strange political bedfellows

BEFORE the 14th General Election in 2018, Centre for Strategic Engage-ment (Cense) CEO Fui K. Soong sensed there was a possibility that Umno and DAP could form a coalition government.

“I told a DAP leader about the possibility and he scoffed at me. Another DAP MP declared in a public forum in Singapore, in which I participated, that he’d resign from the party if that ever happens, ” she recalled.

Fui has done an indepth study of both parties and understands Umno and DAP’s DNA, and back then it was inherent that both parties would want to win at all cost.

“The ethnocentrism is just to get the votes – it is actually a question of economics and not politics, ” she said. Fast forward to 2021. Fewer people scoff at the possibility of DAP and Umno getting into bed together.

During the Perak Menteri Besar crisis in December 2020, Perak DAP chairman Nga Kor Ming told the media that his party and PKR were willing to work with Umno to form a stable state government in the interests of the people. Umno president Datuk Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that his party was open to working with all parties, including those in Opposition, to form the Perak government.

On March 8,2021, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng stated that there would be no DAP-Umno partnership for GE15, but cooperation was possible on people-centric issues.

(Note the use of “rakyat”, or people, when politicians justify making a U-turn.)

Some political analysts and politicians view Lim’s statement as testing the water on whether his party’s grassroots would accept a marriage of convenience between DAP and Umno. DAP’s Pakatan Harapan coalition partner, PKR, has also been playing footsie with Umno.

On Tuesday, in a much-anticipated press conference in Petaling Jaya, PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim confirmed that discussions between PKR and Umno leaders had taken place but no agreement or formal understanding had been made.

Could the three parties enter into a political ménage à trois?

Fui said that nothing is impossible in politics: “It is just a matter of finding the right mechanism and right timing, ” she said.

Universiti Utara Malaysia political lecturer Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani contended that there is a prospect that DAP, PKR and Umno could become strange political bedfellows. This depends on a scenario in which Barisan Nasional cuts ties with the Perikatan Nasional coalition in GE15, as Barisan (comprising Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah) and Pakatan (consisting of PKR, DAP and Amanah) could not form a government on their own.

“Barisan could probably win a majority of Malay seats, whereas Pakatan can win urban and non-Malay seats, ” he said.

Political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat pointed out that the possible cooperation between Pakatan and Umno was a question of both necessity and risk. He believes that in the next election, with Pakatan, Barisan and Perikatan fighting each other, it is unlikely any block can get close to half of Peninsular Malaysia’s 165 parliamentary seats.

“Namely 83 seats, let alone anywhere close to 100 seats, to be the core of a stable Federal Government. This gives a lot of bargaining power to parties based in Sabah and Sarawak, like Gabungan Parti Sarawak, Parti Warisan Sabah, PBS and Upko and individual MPs from Borneo, ” he said.

Fui acknowledged that the grassroots are resistant. It will take time for the ground to soften, as when Pakatan embraced arch enemy Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad before GE14, she said.

“They need to hawk their wares long enough with promises and words like ‘big picture agenda’. People will buy something in the end, ” she said.

“The positive thing from this exercise of possible cooperation is that they will have to abandon old narratives and find new political aspirations.”

Prof Mohd Azizuddin said Umno, DAP and PKR have first to convince their grassroots – many are against such a move.

“They need a big agenda to convince their grassroots why they should collaborate. They will probably use ‘national unity’, ” he said.

(Or, as I said before, they can say it is for the rakyat.)

According to Prof Mohd Azizuddin, DAP, PKR and Umno leaders and their cyber troopers are presenting a narrative asking the resistant grassroots to open their minds and accept changes.

For example, he said, some Umno leaders are saying that there is nothing wrong with collaborating with DAP as it is for national unity.

“The narrative that DAP is anti-Malay is no longer mentioned. But I am not sure they have the time to change the grassroots mindset. That is why I believe, if the three parties do collaborate, it would be after GE15, ” he said.

(There are also Umno leaders in the “Say no to Anwar and DAP” faction.) Prof Wong believes that there is a convergence of Pakatan and Umno wanting each other as a partner in government. Still, the competition to be the “senior partner” means that there cannot be a full pact before GE15 without causing grassroots revolts.

“The risk is greater for the highly factionalised Umno than Pakatan. It is also impossible for Umno and Pakatan grassroots to campaign for each other.

“Pakatan and Umno are like DAP and PAS in the 1980s: They can have a tacit pact and, in some constituencies, multicorner fights might even be helpful to split Perikatan votes, ” he said.

Prof Wong said the challenge to both Pakatan and Umno is how not to look too cynical in the eyes of their respective bases, forcing Umno voters to turn to Perikatan and Pakatan or to abstain in protest.

“Their collaboration needs to be justified, and it cannot be the outdated theme of a two-coalition system.

“The only way out for both Pakatan and Umno is to define their competitive-collaborative relations with policies, which can be different during the election and converged after the election, ” he said.

Umno with DAP? Umno with PKR? Umno with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia? Anything can happen – it all depends on how they play the game.

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