GE15 will be an all new game

AS it stands, it is Umno vs Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and PAS in the Malay seats in GE15.

When asked about the Muafakat Nasional pact between Umno and PAS, Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, “Ada ke Muafakat Nasional ni lagi (does Muafakat Nasional still exist)?”

“If the party were to take heed of social media comments that Umno has been stabbed in the back, then it is better for the party to go solo under the Barisan Nasional flag in the next general election,” Ahmad Zahid, who is also Barisan chairman, said in an interview on My TV Online on Wednesday.

The next day, Perikatan Nasional chairman and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the Perikatan coalition, which includes Bersatu and PAS, will proceed with GE15 seat allocation discussions with or without Umno and Barisan.

On Friday, Ahmad Zahid stated that Umno’s decision not to cooperate with Bersatu in the next election is final. He also said that at the 2020 Umno General Assembly, the party decided to reject the formation of the Perikatan coalition, and it stood firm in strengthening Barisan.

The statements by the presidents of Umno and Bersatu mean that the three big Malay parties will langgar (collide), which was the buzzword in Sabah’s snap polls in 2020. Umno is on a collision course with Bersatu and PAS.

If the three Malay parties – which won 85 parliamentary seats (Umno 54, PAS 18 and Bersatu 13) in GE14 – stick together, they would be a formidable force in GE15.

“It is certain if Umno and PAS with Bersatu are together in facing GE15, most of the 122 Malay majority parliamentary seats would be in their hands,” said Dr Mazlan Ali, a political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). He defines a constituency as a Malay majority when more than 51% of the constituents are from that community.

“PAS and Umno combined could secure most of the 71 Malay MP seats,” said Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar, whose political think tank defines a seat as Malay-majority when 70% and above of the voters are Malay.

“If they (Umno, PAS and Bersatu) stick together, they could take maybe 90 to 100 seats, but that was before Undi18 came into play,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the programmes director at opinion research firm Merdeka Center, referring to the Election Commission proceeding with implementing the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18.

Umno has decided to go solo with Barisan in the next election. However, politicians and political analysts caution that one should not think of Umno as a single entity when talking about the possibility of the three Malay parties fighting each other in GE15.

Whether there will be an electoral pact between Umno and Bersatu as well as PAS depends on what different Umno leaders think about the matter. What is clear is its current president is against the idea – Ahmad Zahid is said to have a frosty relationship with some of PAS and Bersatu’s top leaders.

If the other Umno leaders fail to convince the party to go for an electoral pact with PAS and Bersatu, the party in the Barisan coalition will go solo.

If that is the scenario, Mazlan forecasts that Umno could win from 60 to 70 Parliament seats. “When I say solo, it doesn’t mean that Umno does not have a strategy. Perhaps if it goes against Bersatu and PAS, Umno might have an understanding with Pakatan Harapan to avoid colliding with the coalition in GE15,” he said.

Hisommudin said it is difficult for the Ilham Centre to gauge how many Malay seats Umno could win in the next election. In its survey, which asked “Are Umno and Barisan stronger if they go it alone”, 3% of Malay respondents strongly agreed, 19% agreed, 33% agreed less, 26% disagreed and 19% did not know.

“In the mind of Malay voters, it is about which gabungan (combination) can form the government. It means most of them agreed that Umno, PAS and Bersatu should combine as they are a bit sceptical that Umno alone can form the government,” he said.

Ibrahim predicts that Umno on its own could win between a minimum of 35 and maximum of 70 parliamentary seats. On PAS and Bersatu’s chances, he said it is a sliding scale

“The Malay parties have only about 90 to 95 seats in Peninsular Malaysia to share among them in any contest. So if Umno gains more, then subtract that from the total. Pakatan will likely dominate all the mixed ethnic and non-Malay seats,” said Ibrahim. He defines a Malay majority constituency as one with 70% and above of the voters from that community.

“It’s hard for any of the Malay parties to win any seat with anything less than 70% Malay voters.”

Hisommudin forecasts that PAS and Bersatu combined under Perikatan could win seats where the PAS machinery is strong, like in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. For him, Bersatu is facing a big problem on the West Coast of the peninsula as it depends on PAS machinery, which is weak in states like Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Perak and Selangor.

“For Pakatan, it is a ‘gone case’ in Malay seats, the party will lose. Even in mixed seats like Pokok Sena and Kulim Bandar Baharu [in Kedah] and Kuala Selangor, where Malays are the decider, Pakatan will lose,” said Hisommudin.

Mazlan of UTM noted that PAS and Bersatu have the potential to win about 40 to 50 seats mostly in Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perlis and Terengganu.

“I have not done the simulation yet. When I did the surveys, I found that Malays are still with the ummah (Muslim unity). And they see Perikatan (Bersatu and PAS) as representing the ummah whereas Umno might be seen as anti- ummah (as it is not with the two Malay parties),” he said.

However, in his March survey, Mazlan found that Umno’s “fixed deposit” (bank of voters) is big –about 35% to 38% of total Malay voters. In his surveys on the political inclination of Malay voters, Mazlan found that most Malays want a stable government and a Malay/Islam government. On average across Peninsular Malaysia, he found that about 35% of Malay voters supported Umno, 50% were undecided and the rest picked Perikatan or Pakatan.

“I expect those who are undecided are former Pakatan supporters, but they are angry that many promises in the manifesto were not fulfilled and they are also influenced by the racial and religious narrative which PAS and Umno have brought up. The undecided segment are fencesitters who could support Pakatan or Perikatan,” he said.

Ibrahim pointed out that the political situation is fluid because the electorate has changed significantly: “A lot of the old equations may no longer be valid,” he said.

The Merdeka Center pollster argued that the voters’ choices are volatile – they are not just driven by party affiliation but also by leadership personalities.

“In the middle of the year, Malay voters held nearly equal preference for Perikatan and Barisan. But dynamics have changed and with the addition of millions of new young Malay voters and a crowded field of contesting parties, the outcome is anyone’s guess at this time,” he said.

Hisommudin conceded that GE15 would be “messy” for pollsters to predict as there are many variables: “The GE14 variables can’t be used, and the Undi18 voters will make it messier. GE15 is an election with new data – you can’t use the old data,” he said.

As it stands, we can’t rule out a change in leadership in Umno and the party might have some electoral understanding with Perikatan, if not at least with PAS.

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