Battle for the holy grail

One thing is for sure, whoever succeeds has to understand that people's support is not absolute and they will be forced to deliver their promises. So, don't promise the moon and the stars if you are just offering peanuts because you will be held to ransom.

Muaz Omar, The Malaysian Insider

Even after the morale-boosting win by Pakatan in Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang, the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Malays remains a real problem for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim & Co.

In Bukit Gantang, PAS admitted that the votes from the Malays dropped from 47 per cent to 43 per cent.

This represents the final missing piece to Pakatan in its quest to complete the puzzle and seal its attempt to bring down BN.

However, it has not been smooth sailing for Pakatan in its attempt to snare the Malay votes from Umno.

Umno and its coterie of rogue NGOs are trying very hard to paint the Anwar-led Pakatan as one that will not be able to defend Malay rights and will sell out the Malays.

Umno has conveniently played up sensitive issues to prove to the Malays that they are on the losing side if Pakatan were to lead the country.

Umno has taken advantage and forced Pakatan to be on the defensive over issues like pig farming, the loud azan call, the suggestion to open up UiTM to non-Malays, the former Perak government's decision to award land titles to new villages, and many others.

Umno has to a limited degree succeeded in planting seeds of doubt within the general Malay psyche that a Pakatan government will dilute a heavily-Malay and pro-Islam administration.

Since independence, the government has always been pro-Malay in representation which can be seen in the number and seniority of Umno ministers in the Cabinet compared to the other BN parties.

This has been accentuated after the dark episode of May 13, whereby Tun Abdul Razak put in place the New Economic Policy followed by the setting up of numerous institutions for the sole benefit of the Malays like Mara, PNB and many others.

The Malays have had it easy and almost uninterrupted assistance as well as favourable positioning with the affirmative action policy in place for more than three decades.

The expansion of the middle class among the Malays and the wealth accumulation among certain Malays have been used to infuse a feel-good feeling among the Malays.

This has put the Malays in a comfort zone and made them generally contented with their easy-going life.

Hence, most Malays especially the older generation who have enjoyed the fruits of Umno's handouts for decades felt the need to repay and support Umno/BN in return.

These “oldies” are the ones who formed the thin layer of insulation for Umno to survive the political tsunami that hit the country the past year.

Umno would have been history if not for the sizeable votes that it secured from this age group.

Hence, PAS and to a lesser extent PKR are at a loss as to how to swing the psyche of the older generation Malays towards them.

PAS realises that for it to remain in a multiracial coalition like Pakatan Rakyat or the BN for that matter would be beneficial in the long run.

It would be easy for PAS to take the short-term route of sticking to the unipolar theme and rhetoric of Malay-Islam to gain immediate support as Umno's dominance dwindled.

However, this would mean a loss of opportunity for PAS to expand its catchment area to include non-Muslims.

The support of the Malays remains the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle to complete Pakatan's ambition to take over the federal government.

The key to Pakatan's effort to swing the Malays is to show that with DAP in the coalition it would not be to the detriment of the Malays.

Hence, the DAP-led state government of Penang has to show that it would be able to safeguard and elevate the status of the Malays together with the rest of the population even without the so-called Ketuanan Melayu championed by Umno.

DAP has to also taper down and dilute the perception of it being a chauvinistic Chinese party that is bent on dismantling the pro-Malay and pro-Islam policies in the country.

It is surely not enough to have one or two Malay leaders within their ranks to get the Malays to soften their phobia towards the party.

If this can be carried out successfully and with evidence of genuine sincerity, there will be hope for the coalition to be able to capture the minds and heart of the Malays.

On the other hand, Najib is attempting to repackage and rebrand the image of his pro-Malay administration with the “1 Malaysia” concept.

Umno leaders have done too much to antagonise the non-Malays and it is difficult to get the non-Malays to do a U-turn back to BN in the short term.

Hence, the “1 Malaysia” rhetoric represents Najib's hope to increase non-Malay support for BN.

While BN is going in one direction, Pakatan is going the other way, with no clear indication as to who will reach the finish line.

One thing is for sure, whoever succeeds has to understand that people's support is not absolute and they will be forced to deliver their promises.

So, don't promise the moon and the stars if you are just offering peanuts because you will be held to ransom.

Muaz Omar is a consultant with a regional stakeholders management firm based in Kuala Lumpur.