IT will be the first test for the Umno-PAS alliance in the coming Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election, and for that matter also for the Opposition front which includes MCA and MIC.
There is no doubt that the combination of the two Malay-based parties is extremely powerful, as far as the delivery of votes are concerned, but their roles in the by-election will be a testimony of whether Umno-PAS want to see an inclusive Opposition front.
While it is strategically realistic for the two to have a formal pact, they have been criticised for championing Malay-centric interests and accused of sidelining other races.
An Opposition coalition that is serious in wanting to beat the ruling Pakatan Harapan would surely realise that while Malaysia is predominantly Malay and Muslim, it still remains a plural society. Nothing is going to change that.
No federal government, formed by any political pact, can be a legitimate one if it is not representative of other races.
A government of only one race and one religion, shutting out others, is meaningless, even setting off a dangerous course.
Starting off with a Malay-Muslim narrative, Umno and PAS now appear to have taken a more conciliatory tone.
Leaders of both parties have set off to Sabah and Sarawak to explain that the Umno-PAS alliance is a national consensus charter, and that it included the indigenous people of the two states.
Wanita Umno chief Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad gave an assurance recently that “unity is the national consensus charter, it is inclusive of all races.
“Umno and PAS are two big parties for Malays and bumiputras but we never sidelined our indigenous friends in Sabah and Sarawak.
“When we talk about Ummah (community) it is inclusive, not just about the two parties only,” she reportedly said at a press conference.
Noraini said when they talked about Perpaduan Ummah (Unity of Community), they did not limit it to only Muslims.
“What we offer is peace, unity and harmony. Umno, under Barisan Nasional, has other components, the MIC and MCA, while PAS also has its own supporters from other races, so it does not mean only for the Malays,” she had said.
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Terengganu Mentri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar also paid a call on Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg in their efforts to woo Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
Hadi again kept to his script and said PAS had no issue with other non-Malay parties, except DAP.
They have made the right move by trying to explain their pact, as Umno and PAS need Sabah and Sarawak.
The two states have 25 and 31 parliamentary seats respectively. That’s a combined 56 seats of the total 222 parliamentary seats.
In Sarawak, out of the 31 parliamentary seats, 10 are Malay-Melanau majority while 21 are non-Malay seats.
As for Sabah, 11 of the 25 seats are non-Muslim areas.
While the Umno-PAS pact may win more Malay votes, it is also a double-edged sword as it turns off the powerful Christian voters in the two states who have already openly expressed uneasiness with the race and religion approaches.
It doesn’t help that there are certain Umno and PAS leaders who continue with their rhetoric, which are often overboard and offensive to non-Muslims.
The two parties need to be consistent as they cannot talk of being inclusive and forget that their speeches, which may be tailored to their audiences, are also followed by other races now in this digital age.
It’s worse when their tone reflects their ignorance.
Tanjung Piai will be the test for Umno and PAS to prove that they walk the talk beyond the pledge in the charter pledging to embrace the spirit of multiracialism.
Despite the huge wave of support for Pakatan in the 2018 general election, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia managed to win the Tanjung Piai seat by just 524 votes.
It cannot be denied that this had much to do with the popular MCA candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng, who had held the seats for two terms before his defeat.
A hugely grassroots politician, he is known to have sponsored haj and umrah trips for his Malay constituents, and donated regular supply of rice to poor villagers.
Wee was the political secretary to former MCA president Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, who held the seat.
The race composition argument cannot be used as there is no predominantly Indian-majority seat in Malaysia.
The role of MIC in Barisan will be meaningless if there are no MIC candidates in the next general election.
More so, when there are seven DAP MPs of Indian and Sikh ethnicity while PKR has six Indian MPs.
For state assemblymen of Indian and Sikh ethnicity, DAP has 15 and PKR has five.
Much water has passed under the bridge since the 2018 general election.
The euphoria has died down and as with the rising expectations of voters towards a new government, the demands are sometimes unrealistic but the over-promises in the Pakatan government have not helped.
It has been made worse by what has been known as U-turns, which have given the perception of indecisiveness and inexperience.
In the general election, it has been reported that only 25%-30% of Malays voted for Pakatan, according to the Merdeka Centre, but that was enough to see the downfall of Barisan.
It was further compounded by the split of votes – 35% to 40% of Malays voted for Barisan while 30% to 33% supported PAS.
In the case of Tanjung Piai, it has an electorate of 57% Malay, 42% Chinese and 1% Indian voters.
That means both Barisan-PAS and Pakatan have to work out a strategy and narrative that appeals to the Malays and Chinese, as both are almost equal in size.
The results of the 2018 polls show that Barisan has a huge loyal base there and the same can be said of PAS.
The PAS votes of 2,962 will tip the balance in Barisan’s favour.
The irony is that among large sections of the Malays, there is an increasing perception that Bersatu is unable to defend Malay rights – a rallying cry of the Umno-PAS charter – while many Chinese and Indian voters have complained that DAP has “sold out”, and that power has changed the Chinese-based party.
Last month, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang was heckled in his own Iskandar Puteri constituency in Johor over the khat issue.
In Tanjung Piai, it will be difficult for DAP to attack MCA, if it is contesting the seat, for depending on Umno-PAS votes, as DAP has also worked with the Islamist party under the Barisan Alternatif pact while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had sent so many of the DAP leaders to jail, is now revered by the DAP leaders.
Even Dr Mahathir had dismissed DAP as a racist party, the same line that Hadi is now using despite having worked with DAP before.
But that’s politics, where there are no permanent friends and enemies but only common interests.
So, the stage is set for a battle, with a radically changed political landscape and sentiment since May 9, 2018.
The people of Tanjung Piai have the privilege of sending a clear signal.