Will ‘third force’ make an impact in elections?

The third force has become the talk of the town but its identity, character and convictions – hence likely impact – have been rather vague. SHUHADA ELIS and ELVINA FERNANDEZ report

New Straits Times

THE “third force” has been in the news, mainly online. It is commonly thought to relate to individuals or groupings of individuals not affiliated to any political organisation.

It seems their presence has unnerved political parties ahead of the next general election.

The emergence of the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM), for instance, apparently has reinforced the belief that the choices are not confined to two dominant political players any more.

Now, the electorate has a third choice.

But what is the “third force?”

Some see them as universalists.

And, according to a former Umno minister, they represent a segment of people who are least-satisfied with the government.

Enough watchers look at them with some degree of cynicism, describing them as “a loose association of mutually-admiring individuals”.

Others, such as Pas unity chairman Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, believed the group has surfaced as a result of protests by those who are not in favour of Pakatan Rakyat policies.

In essence Mujahid is hinting that the “third force” is made up of Pakartan supporters.

And, disgruntled Pakatan supporters? Everybody seems to have their own idea on the third force but it gets really vague when it comes to naming or identifying them.

Already, political observers and analysts believe that MCLM is a third force, but the movement viewed itself differently.

MCLM chairman Raja Petra Kamarudin had written in his blog that it aimed to complement political parties in addressing important issues concerning Malaysian politics.

People within the “third force” community tend to disagree about their identity.

“The third force carries an ugly connotation,” president of MCLM Haris Ibrahim recently said.

MCLM has set up the Barisan Rakyat Independent Initiative which identifies and supports candidates to contest against Barisan Nasional in the next general election.

It has named two candidates — both lawyers — to contest in the 13th general election, and offered to assist Pakatan Rakyat in the Tenang by-election on Jan 30.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian did not rule out the possibility that the third force impact could split the votes, if there was a three-cornered fight.

MCLM second candidate Sreekanth Pillai, who regards himself as an independent candidate, said he was not bound to by anyone’s instructions.

“It is up to me whether I want to contest on a Pakatan ticket or go as an independent,” Sreekanth said.

His target segment?

“Urban seats,” he said, adding that he would use the social network and one-on-one approach to reach out to voters.

Constituencies such as Bangsar, for instance, may very well be a likely “third force” contesting ground.

But local leaders feel it would be hard for newcomers to penetrate into the area’s political scene.

Although, generally, Bangsar residents are from the private sector middle-income group, there are government servants in the lower-income group as well.

The lack of clarity on their identity, presence and directions makes it easier for one to say that the rightful place of this third force is on the periphery.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Law and Policy Studies lecturer Dr Kartini Aboo Talib therefore said the impact of the third force would exist but would be weak.

Malaysian political culture was still obliged to patron-client or master-servant terms, she said.

There are questions whether the birth of another political party, such as Kesejahteraan Insan Tanah Air (Kita), led by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, can be regarded as the “third force”.

Analysts recently said that the party would find it hard to cope unless it managed to pull an influx of members.

Zaid, who left Parti Keadilan Rakyat last November, pinned much hope on this “brand new politics”.

“They can say whatever they want but we believe we will be the party of the future,” he said when contacted.

As whether the third force would carry an impact in the next general election, DAP Petaling Jaya Utara member of parliament Tony Pua seemed to echo his Pas comrade on the worry of dealing with split votes.

“I’m sure the outcome will be more positive if the third force works with Pakatan,” he said.

Failing which, the future may likely be ugly for Pakatan.