What if a general election were to be held today?

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Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, Malay Mail Online

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) may be likely face economic headwinds and political turmoil, but analysts project that it would still withstand a challenge by the loosely-cobbled and fledgling Pakatan Harapan.

Analysts observed the newly-formed opposition alliance as too nascent and unstable to trump BN’s battle-hardened election machinery, and Malaysians can expect to see the ruling coalition walk back into Putrajaya if a general election be held now.

The continued decline of the ringgit and concerns over commodity and oil prices would only “slightly” dampen support for BN, and were far smaller risks to the coalition than the dangers of infighting would pose to the still warring opposition parties, they explained.

“The (main) battleground will be in the Malay areas, if the opposition is divided, leading to multi-cornered fights between Umno, PAS, Amanah/PKR in the Malay areas, then Umno would definitely benefit.

“Umno might lose a few seats because of factional fights within the party, but it would not be enough for the opposition to win majority of the peninsular seats,” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Dr Faisal Hazis said.

The senior fellow at UKM’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) said even if opposition parties succeed in forming an electoral pact to ensure straight fights against BN, they would still need to showcase a “strong Malay leadership” to break into Umno’s Malay vote bank.

After months in crisis, the remnants of Pakatan Rakyat opposition pact, formed after Election 2008 and dissolved early this year, finally regrouped last month to establish a new alliance called Pakatan Harapan.

The new grouping, however, is noticeably missing Islamist party PAS, which is seen as possibly Umno’s biggest rival in the contest for the Malay vote.

The disagreement over PAS’s absence from the pact — either by design or consequence — is also causing another rift within PKR as well as between the party and its Pakatan Harapan allies.

“In short, the opposition needs to have an electoral pact to avoid a split in votes; continue to project centrist messages (democracy, transparency, good governance, people-centred development, inclusivity); special messaging for the Malays (reassure the Malays that their position as stipulated in the Federal Constitution would not be undermined and that the opposition could provide deliver bread and butter issues better than Umno); and offer strong leadership that could pull the opposition together and capture the imagination of Malays and other ethnic groups,” Faisal added.

Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, agreed it was doubtful the opposition would able to take full advantage of BN’s current crises on multiple fronts.

Like Faisal, Ibrahim said how the opposition performs in the 14th general election would depend heavily on whether the allies could agree on becoming a part of an electoral pact.

“The outcome of an election is now impinged by many factors. The moribund economy and heightened concerns over depressed commodity prices and oil prices would slightly dampen support for BN particularly among its rural base of supporters.

“However, given the fragmentation that has happened to the opposition, it hard to say if they can take advantage of the situation,” he told Malay Mail Online.

“If they can reach an accord that will bring about an electoral pact then I’d say their chances are better than 2013 but the likelihood of that is uncertain at best.

“Seeing how riven they are with internal bickering and differences I’d say there is a likelihood of multi-corner contests among opposition parties, which will significantly improve BN’s chances of winning the next election,” Ibrahim explained.

But Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Dr Lim Teck Ghee believes that bread-and-butter issues would remain the main concern of most Malaysians when polls are held, making BN more vulnerable by dint of slowing economic growth in the country.

Politicians vying for their votes, he said, must think of long-term solutions if they wanted their support.

“I think most Malaysians are less concerned about when the elections will be held than with the current socio-economic crisis in the country.

“With the rising cost of living, depreciating ringgit, rising unemployment and growing racial and religious tension, it should not be business as usual for politicians from both sides,” he told Malay Mail Online.

Liew Chin Tong, DAP’s MP for Kluang and the chief protagonist of the party’s strategic foray into Umno’s Johor stronghold in Election 2013, said he strongly believes the BN lynchpin is heading for a split in the next federal polls — between those who support Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and those who do not.

On PAS, Liew said party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, now no longer tied to Pakatan Rakyat with former allies DAP and PKR, will take his party to form an alliance with Najib.

“I foresee the next GE of being a fight between a progressive coalition and a conservative coalition.

“The former will champion the economic well-being of Malaysians in face of difficult economic conditions while the latter about race, religion, royalty,” he told Malay Mail Online.

Najib recently said he will call for a general election only when his mandate expires in 2018.

BN retained power in Election 2013, but lost the popular vote.

Umno has since been rocked with internal conflicts over numerous issues, chiefly the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy which has been occupying headlines around the world in recent months.

On home soil, leaders both in the opposition and BN have been separately campaigning for Najib’s removal, with some alleging that his continued leadership would hamper the country’s ability to overcome a local and global economic slowdown.