Endless political possibilities

Infinite futures: Even the powerful Dr Strange would be hard pressed to predict political outcomes in Malaysia. — Avengers: Endgame/Marvel Cinematic Universe

IN Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange uses the Time Stone to look into the future and find every possible scenario in which the Avengers face off against Thanos, and what the outcome would be.

Spider-Man: “Hey, what was that?”

Doctor Strange: “I went forward in time to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.”

Star-Lord: “How many did you see?”

Doctor Strange: “Fourteen million, six hundred and five.”

Iron Man: “How many did we win?”

Doctor Strange: “One.”

In a restaurant in Ipoh two weeks ago, like Doctor Strange, Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar, a Perak DAP assemblyman and I went through possible political alliances in Malaysia.

We agreed that it had been easier to predict GE14 in 2018 than the upcoming 15th General Election.

In GE14, in Peninsular Malaysia, it was Barisan Nasional vs Pakatan Harapan vs PAS; in Sabah, it was Barisan vs Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan; and in Sarawak, it was Barisan vs Pakatan.

In GE15, we can only guess at which parties will be in which coalition or alliance. The political situation is too fluid to predict. In Peninsular Malaysia, it could be Barisan vs Pakatan vs Perikatan Nasional vs Warisan (Parti Warisan Sabah and the not-yet-registered parties Pejuang and Muda using Warisan’s logo).

We discussed whether Umno would go solo with Barisan in GE15 or be part of a coalition or loose alliance.

Umno is split between those who want to work with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Perikatan in GE15 and those against that. “The importance of power is the root of everything. Umno cannot be a second fiddle and submit to Bersatu, ” said the analyst from Ilham Centre, a political think tank.

Hisommudin said Umno has also rejected the idea of cooperating with PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and DAP in GE15 while it wants to cooperate with PAS for the unity of the ummah. But, he said, there are Umno leaders who seem to agree with Anwar’s plan for a new political alignment, ie, combining Pakatan and Umno.

“This idea is still at the experimental stage and they are testing public acceptance, ” he said.

“An obstacle to this idea is the image of kleptocracy that tars the ‘court cluster’ within Umno. But for Anwar, that is not the main question. Most importantly, what move will enable him to achieve his dream of becoming prime minister?”

(The court cluster refers to Umno MPs facing corruption charges in court.)

The analyst pointed out that the parties are still assessing the pros and cons of the various scenarios.

“All parties are currently still at the trial or ‘beta’ stage. Each is completing a puzzle block that is still unclear. So for now, any possibility can still happen. Time will determine how these political actors make important decisions for the survival of their respective parties in the next GE, ” he said.

In a separate conversation, Universiti Utara Malaysia political lecturer Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani gave three political scenarios involving Umno.

The first scenario: Umno would be uncomfortable in a Perikatan coalition as it would not be the dominant party. But some factions think that the party needs to work with Perikatan during GE15 for Malay unity.

“Umno would have to sacrifice a lot (of seats) to Bersatu and PAS. This would create dissatisfaction among Umno grassroots leaders who want to contest in GE15 but might be asked to give up seats to Bersatu and PAS, ” said Prof Mohd Azizuddin.

“Umno doesn’t think that it is conducive to stay with Perikatan but they want to be with PAS (in the Muafakat Nasional alliance) – but PAS is still comfortable with Bersatu in the Perikatan coalition. And Bersatu wants to be with both Umno and PAS, as that will strengthen it, ” he said.

The second scenario: Umno will not form a coalition with Pakatan because its grassroots members are not in favour of the “alliance of hope”, in particular DAP. And DAP grassroots members are not in favour of working with traditional rivals Umno, he said.

“But if Umno decides to go with BN alone in GE15, probably there will be an unofficial collaboration between Umno and PH on not contesting against each other, ” he said.

The third scenario: Barisan doesn’t form any coalition with any party. GE15 will be similar to the 2020 Sabah polls when there was an almost free-for-all fight among Perikatan, Barisan, Parti Bersatu Sabah and Warisan Plus (consisting of Warisan, Pakatan and Upko).

“PH will win mainly in urban and non-Malay seats while voters in Malay areas will strongly support Umno. If that is the case, Perikatan will have difficulty winning many seats as it relies on Malay-dominated seats and Umno is not with them, ” he said.

Umno and Barisan, he predicted, could contest on their own and form a coalition government with other parties.

“That’s the best option for Umno as they possibly can’t collaborate with other parties (like PKR and DAP) before GE15. Anything can happen right now. Subject to how Umno and BN play the game, ” he said.

Political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat shared his possible post-GE15 endgames.

Given a hung Parliament, he forecasts, there are three possible formations of a majority government:

PH-BN-Bornean; BN-PH-Borneans; or BN-PN-Borneans, he said, referring to MPs and parties from Sabah and Sarawak as Borneans.

“In other words, PH’s best scenario is winning enough seats to be the senior partner in government, followed by winning enough seats to be a junior partner, and the worst is being condemned to be in the Opposition, ” said Prof Wong.

“After the Sheraton Move and a year of chaos, PH voters have become more realistic and are no longer living in the self-blown bubble of New Malaysia. They would even accept PH going into partnership with Umno.”

The political scientist pointed out that this was tested out in Perak, where Pakatan helped Umno to replace Bersatu as the leading government party, and in Johor where the Umno Menteri Besar called Pakatan a strategic partner after Pakatan’s subtle support neutralised Bersatu’s threat of pulling out of the state government.

According to Prof Wong, for Umno, the scenarios are ranked in the following order of desirability: BN-PH-Borneans; BN-Borneans-PN; BN-PN-Borneans; and PH-BN-Borneans.

“The preferences are straightforward: First, be in government rather than in Opposition; second, be the senior partner rather than a junior partner; third, for a government partner, PH before PN. Just as how Umno accuses PAS of behaving, Umno is also playing in dua kolam (two ponds), courting PAS overtly and PH covertly, ” he said.

Prof Wong predicted that PAS would back Bersatu until the dissolution of Parliament because it would not want Umno to absorb Bersatu too fast and make PAS its next target. By nomination day, PAS – at least at the state and local levels – would probably do a deal with Umno that PAS will stay neutral between Umno and Bersatu in exchange for Umno’s neutrality between PAS and Pakatan, he said.

“This means PN will effectively be just PAS after GE15. In the long run, Umno would prefer PH as its partner in government with fewer overlapping territories than PAS, which has been Umno’s rival since 1955, ” he said.

Prof Wong believes that the convergence of Pakatan and Umno wanting each other as government partners but still competing to be the senior partner means that there cannot be a full pact before the elections without causing revolts at the grassroots.

“The risk is greater for the highly factionalised Umno than PH. It is also impossible for Umno and PH grassroots to campaign for each other. PH and Umno are like DAP and PAS in the 1980s, they can have a tacit pact and, in some constituencies, multicornered fights might even be helpful to split the PN votes, ” he said.

In Avengers: Endgame, several endings are played out, including the one in which the Avengers win. Malaysian politics, though, is even more complicated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Doctor Strange would develop a migraine just calculating whether Umno will decouple from Bersatu or whether DAP will get into bed with Umno.

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Umno , PKR , Barisan Nasional , GE15 , PH , PN ,


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