As the clock ticks towards GE, it’s getting harder to read between the lines in Malaysian politics.
BY now, anyone following the country’s politics would have to admit that it is getting much harder to read.
It is said that there are no permanent enemies in politics and that politics is the art of the possible. But in Malaysia, the politicians are doing what is seemingly the most impossible.
And it is not just the politicians but the voters as well but we will come to that later. We will start off with the politicians.
The most talked about event last week must be the visit of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to jailed opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is in hospital following a shoulder operation.
The visit was followed up by his deputy, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – who was at one time an ally of Anwar.
Both the Umno leaders took along their wives, sending out signals that this was beyond just a hospital visit. For sure, the presence of their spouses made it comfortable for Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Maybe we are reading too much into these visits. Is there a deal in the making? After all, Najib and Anwar have one common nemesis – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. It was Dr Mahathir who got Anwar sacked from the Cabinet and subsequently jailed six years until 2004 on charges of sodomy and corruption.
It is well known that while Anwar and Dr Mahathir are said to be now on the same side – at least, on the surface – the reality is that both are using each other to topple Najib.
It’s a case of let’s first get rid of the Barisan Nasional government in the coming general election; then we figure out how to get rid of each other after that.
But beyond conspiracy theories and imagination running wild, let’s not forget that the PM had also visited PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang when he was hospitalised.
And I am pretty sure that Najib will visit Dr Mahathir if he is unwell. It won’t look good for Najib if he doesn’t.
The current relationship between Umno and PAS is surely stranger than fiction. Both parties have had deep rooted rivalry for decades.
Their grassroots members can’t tolerate each other and for years, they won’t even pray in the same mosque. Families have broken up over this political rivalry, especially in the east coast states, and name calling is almost a norm. PAS labelled Umno members kafir or infidels.
But now, Najib and Hadi appears to have reached some form of understanding, with what the latter has termed the “politics of maturity” or merely expediency for many.
Perhaps, both Umno and PAS now have a common enemy. Your enemy is also my enemy, we can assume. The common hatred is Parti Amanah, comprising former PAS leaders, who are now in Pakatan Harapan, with PKR and DAP.
Still, it won’t be wrong to expect Umno, through Barisan Nasional, squaring off with PAS in the elections, especially in Kelantan and Terengganu. Don’t expect Umno to give PAS a walkover.
Joining in the fray would be for sure, Amanah. So a three-way fight for the Malay votes is almost certain in many Malay majority seats in the rural seats.
Over at the urban areas, there are more sentiments that are difficult to comprehend. Ask the average pro-opposition voter in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Perak, a sizeable number will want to see Barisan’s defeat.
Their anger towards Barisan is overwhelming. We can expect many urban seats to go to DAP or PKR where these two parties are strong.
Like in the 2013 general election, they hope to see Barisan walloped. In that polls, PAS was the darling of the opposition front.
Many Chinese voters embraced PAS, finding excuses to suggest that hudud was acceptable. At DAP ceramah, many spoke of how non-Muslims would be spared and only corrupt Barisan leaders would have their arms amputated.
It’s a different story now. PAS is the loathed Talibans. Many seemed to have forgotten that they were heaping praises on Islamic rule just five yeas ago. Go to YouTube and watch such talk at these ceramah.
Many would cringe seeing themselves singing the late Teresa Teng’s hit song, The Moon Represents My Heart, at political gatherings in their declaration of love for PAS. (The symbol of PAS is a full moon.) DAP leaders would probably now say it’s not them, even if they are seen on old videos saying a vote for PAS is a vote for DAP.
And just one or two years ago, and perhaps, even now, many Chinese voters still cannot accept the ultra-Malay stand of Perkasa. Mention Perkasa, the political pressure goes up in the Chinese community but in another case that is stranger than fiction, many Chinese voters are cheering for Perkasa leaders who are now in the leadership of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Pribumi’s Penang chief Marzuki Yahya was the former Perkasa chairman for Penang. The Selangor Parti Pribumi chief Abu Bakar Yahaya was the former Perkasa chief in the state.
Mejar Annuar Abdul Hamid, who is the Kedah deputy chief, was also a former Perkasa leader. The biggest name from Perkasa to join Parti Pribumi was Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman who is now a party vice-president.
And of course, Dr Mahathir was the patron of Perkasa. Pakatan’s condemnation of Perkasa’s right-wing Malay politics is now a thing of the past and many Chinese voters are hoping that Dr Mahathir will deliver the Malay votes in the rural areas.
Not many care about the reality that Pribumi is struggling to put an organisation in place; its branches and divisions are still not formed. It has yet to convene an annual general meeting as the clock towards the GE ticks away.
Amanah has been a let down. There is talk that it can only get about 10,000 members and that it is struggling to find its place in Pakatan Harapan.
In short, in the Malay heartland where the predominant Malay voters call the shots, it is a choice between Barisan – read Umno – and PAS. There are 54 parliamentary and 96 state seats with predominantly Felda settlers; these are all rural, Malay majority seats.
If the Malays vote for the opposition – it may well be PAS. Not Pribumi or Amanah. PAS is the last thing that the urban Chinese voters would want after their flirtation with the Islamist party ended up as a nightmare.
The reality is that even if every Chinese cast their vote for the opposition, it won’t make much impact.
It will be the over 70% of Malay votes that will determine the outcome of the general election.
At stake is 222 parliamentary seats, with only about 22 Chinese majority seats. There is no Indian majority seat.
With the exception of Penang and the racially-mixed Selangor where PKR holds sway, there is a saying that we should be careful what we wish for.