CONVENTIONAL wisdom says the Melaka polls will be a three-way fight – Barisan Nasional vs Perikatan Nasional vs Pakatan Harapan – that will benefit the opposition alliance, Pakatan. A two-way fight – Pakatan vs Barisan and Perikatan – would give the two government coalitions an edge.
The Barisan and Perikatan coalitions are in the Federal government while Pakatan is the opposition alliance. Barisan consists of Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah while Perikatan comprises Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PAS, Gerakan, Sabah Star and SAPP (Sabah Progressive Party). Pakatan includes PKR, DAP, Parti Amanah Negara and Upko.
Looking back at the results of the 14th General Election in 2018, data engineer Teoh Alvin forecasts that Pakatan will gain in a three-cornered fight in Melaka. Teoh – who is with The Elections Lab, an elections consultant, campaign and training company – said Pakatan could retain its seats if the Malay votes it got in GE14 does not swing away, and if it maintains the votes it got from other races.
However, the data engineer said Barisan could win the state polls if it manages to hold on to its core Malay voters from GE14 and pull Malays (who did not support it then) to its side, away from Perikatan and Pakatan.
“Additional seats that might benefit Pakatan in three-cornered fights are the ones it lost by a majority of 1,000 votes and vice versa for Barisan, too,” said Teoh.
“What I see is a battle for Malay voters. The question is where the Malay votes will go among the three coalitions.”
In GE14, Umno won 13 seats, DAP eight, PKR three, Bersatu two and Amanah two. Pakatan formed the government by winning 15 out of the 28 seats in the state assembly.
According to Teoh, a two-cornered fight would benefit Barisan and Perikatan as they will get the bulk of the Malay votes: “Pakatan got quite a number of Malay votes in GE14 but that was when Bersatu was with the alliance,” he said.
Pakatan leaders are confident that if Bersatu/PAS and Umno go against each other, the opposition alliance will have an edge as the Malay votes will be split. But if they join forces, they will be a formidable force, the opposition leaders concede.
Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan said his party prefers a straight fight against Pakatan.
“For us, it would be better if Bersatu, PAS and Umno sit in the same coalition. But since Umno prefers dividing the votes and they are willing to risk giving victory to Pakatan, we have no choice but to prepare for a three-cornered fight,” he said.
On the chances of Bersatu and Umno reaching a compromise and contesting in the same team, Wan Saiful said: “Bersatu is ever willing to prioritise unity and stability. The question is more for Umno to answer and for the rakyat to judge.”
Selangor Barisan Nasional information chief Isham Jalil argued that the best scenario for the two government coalitions would be for Perikatan to support Barisan and not demand seats.
But Bersatu won two seats in GE14, wouldn’t it at least want to defend them?
Said Isham, who is from Umno, “They no longer have a significant chunk of the voters who voted for them in the two seats they won last time. This is because most of those voters were sympathisers of Pakatan/PKR/Amanah/Mahathir,” he said, referring to then Pakatan and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Isham explained that since the ideal case – Bersatu not contesting in the polls – is a no go, the next best scenario would be for Barisan to go solo: “If we give Perikatan/Bersatu seats, there will be protest votes among our supporters. They won’t even come out to vote and that will not be good for us. If that happens, Pakatan wins.
“So we have a better chance of defeating Pakatan if we go solo, albeit in a three-cornered fight,” he said.
Isham echoes the stance of Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who on Thursday night reiterated that the party would not cooperate with Bersatu in the Melaka polls.
“For Bersatu, we have made a decision. We will never work with them, period. We made our decision during the Umno general assembly,” said Ahmad Zahid, who is Barisan chairman.
In response, Perikatan chairman and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that his coalition will be contesting all 28 state seats in the Melaka polls: “We have no problems facing two or three or four-cornered fights in this election,” he said on Friday.
From my chats with pollsters, the consensus seems to be that Pakatan will retain the non-Muslim and mixed seats it won in GE14. How-ever, they conceded that there are competitive seats, such as Bemban and Machap Jaya, which the opposition alliance could lose.
There is a question mark about whether Pakatan could retain the Malay votes in the marginal mixed seats it won in GE14 when Bersatu was with the coalition. The same question mark hangs over Malay majority seats that Pakatan won.
The scenario in the coming Melaka polls is different from GE14, when Barisan was swimming against a tsunami that favoured Pakatan. This time, there is a sense of optimism in the country after the economy opened up when most of the states entered Phase Four of the National Recovery Plan for the Covid-19 pandemic. The optimism could benefit the ruling government led by Barisan in Melaka.
A low voter turnout could also cost Pakatan the marginal seats it won in the 2018 general election.
The ummah (Muslim unity) among Umno, Bersatu and PAS is split. The Melaka election is shaping up to be an election about which Malay party in the Federal government will dominate the votes from the community.
Will it be Umno or Bersatu/PAS?
If Umno wins big in Melaka and Bersatu gets zero seats, the party led by Muhyiddin could crumble. If Umno loses the Melaka government, it will serve as a lesson to the party that it has to combine with Bersatu and PAS if it wants to win GE15.
There are two schools of thought in Umno: one believes Umno and Barisan must go solo in Melaka while the other is convinced Barisan has to combine with Perikatan for victory to be assured.
However, there are Umno leaders who hate Bersatu, which is an ally in the Federal government, more than they dislike Perikatan.
After the Melaka polls, Isham predicts Bersatu will withdraw support from the government in Parliament. “This will induce GE15. We’ll be ready for that too,” he said.
Wan Saiful thinks otherwise.
“Ismail Sabri was nominated as PM by Tan Sri Muhyiddin. We have no intention of pulling support from our own government while Ismail Sabri fulfils all the coalition commitments that were agreed on together,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
If Umno and Bersatu cannot resolve their differences, the Melaka polls will be a three-way contest. For Pakatan and many in Umno, they would say: Bring it on!