On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Riding the winds of change

IT’S unfortunate that politics in Malaysia is going to get more toxic with the formal pact between Umno and PAS, as we can expect the two parties to take the race and religion agenda to its limit.

The two sides may not have the best credentials. Umno is still struggling to face the aftermath of the barrage of corruption and money laundering charges that have been filed against its top leaders since its defeat in the general election.

Its claim of fighting for the Malays and religion seems hollow in the wake of the glaring looting of the country’s coffers and even institutions meant to protect the interests of the Malays.

Then, there is PAS, which has found itself in an awkward situation following the expose that its leaders have a weakness for luxury cars and super bikes. Suddenly, the pious image that they have branded themselves with all along isn’t so convincing any longer.

Both Umno and PAS share something similar – their leaders have been kept busy at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission office.

Many rational Malaysians have dismissed the marriage of these two parties who have planned their pact in the name of upholding race and religion.

But the reality is that enough voters will buy into their poisonous ideology. They feel they need to support Umno and PAS because “the new government is controlled by DAP – which is a euphemism for the Chinese – and that they need to protect Malay interests and Islam.”

It doesn’t help that the tone and even body language of DAP leaders, when they deliver their speeches, are unlikely to endear them to the Malays.

A few of the DAP ministers still lack the social skills and sensitivities in creating a warm working relationship with the mostly Malay officials at their ministries.

The synergy of Umno and PAS is expected because it is a known fact that only 25-30% of Malays voted for Pakatan Harapan in last year’s general election, but that was enough to move the goal posts of political equation.

On the other hand, about 95% of Chinese voters chose PH in the May 9 elections, more than the 85% who supported the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2013, according to the Merdeka Center. About 70-75% of Indians voted for PH.

It said 35-40% of Malays voted for Barisan Nasional, while 30-33% placed their faith in PAS.

The report said although a higher percentage of Malays voted for PH in Johor and in west coast states such as Melaka and Negeri Sembilan, PH’s overall Malay support was affected by its weak performance in Kelantan and Terengganu.

Both Umno and PAS leaders would have realised that if they work together, they will be a formidable force as the combination of their votes were more than that for PH.

We can ridicule PAS leaders for being pseudo politicians masquerading as religious teachers, but to their rural supporters in the east coast, they are highly revered, and their constant call to set up an Islamic State in Malaysia stirs the hearts of their audience.

They are unlikely to be swayed by the news of their Porsche driving leaders, as they would probably be seen riding on their bicycles in the villages.

And their base remains solid with their loyal followers, which some of us would dismiss as fanatical.

PKR has long realised that without the participation of PAS supporters, they would never be able to get the huge numbers for their protests.

Last year’s anti-Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) rally was a success because PAS was responsible for mobilising the mammoth crowd that turned up.

But over the last nine months, Umno – especially Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak – has been able to reach out to the working-class Malays, which has been described as a disenfranchised group struggling to pay their bills.

These are not the Malays who spend the afternoons sipping tea at Bangsar Shopping Centre, but the Malays who shop and eat in Kajang and Bangi, like how the voters of Semenyih do.

But we also need to examine closely the voting patterns of Semenyih.

While most analysts have described the defeat of PH in this predominantly Malay state constituency as a “mini Malay tsunami”, we should also be mindful of Umno, Alliance and Barisan Nasional having won the seat 13 times consecutively since 1957. The only exception was in GE14, when the PH candidate won with a 8,964 vote majority. So, the Barisan victory must be seen from the right perspective.

Still, we must not overlook that there has been an increasing sense of frustration and let-down, that PH has failed to deliver what was promised. PH leaders themselves – including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – have admitted that they over-promised because they didn’t expect to win.

The PH government has five years to fulfil its manifesto, and it’s already coming to a year now. Previously, most voters didn’t bother to read the manifesto, but times have changed. The voters and opposition hold the government to it. The onus is now on PH to share with voters its realised promises, it’s future targets, and if failure were to prevail in the short and medium term, the reasons for it.

Now that they are coming close to a year in office, they can’t continue blaming Najib or Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Jho Low and everybody else for their inability to deliver. The legacy issue has become tiresome and their performances will be affected if voters keep hearing the same excuses, because PH was voted in to fix the problems.

There is a commonly used phrase in political science – “revolution of rising expectations.”

It refers to a situation in which a rise in prosperity and freedom leads people to believe they can improve life for themselves and their families.

The people seek to make political changes – as in GE14 – to allow them to pursue better opportunities. In our case, the people disposed Barisan after it was in power for 60 years, and Malaysians hope for a sliver of prosperity and freedom.

While there were reforms in some institutions, they expected better from PH, and obviously, they feel their expectations have been dashed. From the increasing cost of living to the weakening ringgit to poor performances of some ministers, the PH government must have heard all the grumblings, and it doesn’t help that there are enough Malays who feel that the DAP and other non-Malay officials are calling the shots.

And of course, there’s the factionalism and open squabbling in the recent PKR party polls.

It may hard to fathom, but there are Malays who buy this line because Bossku says so!

If we were to accept the survey findings that only 25-30% of Malays voted for PH, then we could safely presume that the Malay-based PH components are in serious trouble.

It wouldn’t be wrong to assume the percentage of support for PH has dipped since May last year.

Even Dr Mahathir can’t be counted upon to deliver the votes now in the fight for the hearts and minds of the Malays.

Barisan reportedly secured the majority of the 854 police personnel who voted in Semenyih.

But non-Malays have every reason, from now, to worry about the fight for the Malay votes between Barisan and PH.

There are concerns that both sides will try to outdo each other in being more Malay and Islam than the other, and such fears are not unfounded, as at some point, the non-Malays will become the bogeymen when politicians create fictional trepidation.

PH needs to focus on fulfilling the promises in its manifesto, work on the economy and issues affecting the people directly. However, a flying car isn’t one of them.