Unpredictabilities in Umno’s calculations

Kuik Cheng Kang, Sin Chew Daily

“if you have a travel plan for end of the year, go ahead, for the general election will not be held this year.”

That was a tip from someone close to PM Najib.

The new parliamentary session that will resume on Monday will be very crucial for the ruling coalition, and redelineation of constituencies will be the most potent weapon to seal BN’s victory in the coming election.

While those drawing up the rules of the game have to a certain extent commanded an absolute advantage, there are nevertheless unexpected factors that we should not overlook, as the redelineation may not keep pace with the changes taking place in voters’ hearts.

Ever since Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin have leaned towards Pakatan Harapan, DAP has thrown in all the effort to create the illusion of a “Malay tsunami” in GE14.

A senior Umno minister recently told me, “Do you think we will do nothing about it?”

Indeed, for its own survival, Umno has already adopted or is preparing to adopt the following strategies in the wake of the onslaught.

1. Striking a deal with PAS

After PAS left the opposition pact and lost the support of DAP, the party learned to accept this reality, retreating instead to its east coast stronghold. Meanwhile, Umno has made it clear it has no intention of wrestling the states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

If the Islamist party were to win clean in the two east coast states and Umno were to make significant breakthroughs in west coast parliamentary seats, the winning formula will invariably be the creation of three- and multi-cornered fights.

Umno has been consistently employing the RUU355 bait and keeping mum over specific religious affairs including the Muslims-only launderette issue in a bid to warm the relationship it has forged with PAS. If not handled properly, this could as well give rise to excessively emboldened religious forces, undermining the nation’s foundation.

The royalty of Johor, Perlis, Selangor, Terengganu and Perak have recently voiced up against the radicals, and Umno feels that it is strategically necessary for such a break. That said, the incident has created some unwarranted tension in our multicultural society, and mishandling of it could lead to grave consequences.

2. Malay society in full blast of DAP

The high-profile “Malay tsunami” tactic of DAP/PH may backfire in the conservative Malay society. The rightists are concerned about political powers falling into the hands of the Chinese, and will therefore cast their votes in favor of BN even if they are somewhat unhappy with Umno too.

Almost 50 seats held by Umno have been won in Felda settlements. Thanks to the Felda scandal, Mahathir has led the Pakatan team to wage a full-blown war against Umno although the result is still uncertain.

However, the alliance between DAP and Mahathir has disappointed the local Chinese community, and BN has estimated that at least 15% of Pakatan supporters will either cast spoilt votes or stay away from polling centers out of frustration.

Umno is going all out to blast Mahathir-Muhyiddin being exploited by DAP in an attempt to create a sense of community crisis among the Malays that the Chinese are taking over their power.

Again, whether this tactic will work depends on how much pressure the Malay society can take under the weight of rising cost of living. The Budget 2018 about to be unveiled by the PM is widely anticipated to include solutions to lessen the living pressure of Malays.

3. Redelineation of constituencies

This is the key to the ultimate triumph of BN, in particular Umno, in the coming general election. Under the redelineation exercise, seats that Umno won or lost by razor-thin margins will have significantly larger Malay populations to boost the party’s winning chances this time.

Large numbers of Chinese voters will be locked in in DAP strongholds, denying them of the possibility of playing kingmakers in mixed constituencies.

Any weapon is a double-edged sword, one that can hurt the enemy as well as oneself. The redelineation will have an impact on existing grassroots power structure and distribution of resources due to reshuffle in Umno divisions and branches. This will invariably hurt the vested interest of some leaders and may potentially drain away the votes in election.

Putting most Chinese voters in a score of constituencies may not work, and in the event the Malay tsunami does take form, the ruling coalition may still need a hand from Chinese voters.

4. Never giving up Chinese votes

Even though the government is well aware of the fact that recognizing UEC certificate and institutionalizing the construction of new SJKCs in predominantly Chinese areas will not guarantee a decisive return of Chinese voters to BN, Najib is still willing to fuflill the demands of MCA, Gerakan and SUPP.

In a recent closed door BN meeting on GE14, Najib urged Umno leaders not to advocate single stream education. We can see from here that Najib has not given up Chinese votes completely despite a setback in the last two elections.

Najib is now waiting for the right moment to dissolve the parliament, with bloated confidence.

But, no strategy is assured of its success. Money and power will only have shortlived effects and the long-term strategy is still to win over the hearts of voters through honoring the pledges made.

As for Chinese Malaysians, they need to analyze the political situation with a sober mind and positive mindset and not to allow themselves to be blindfolded by their own frustration and emotion in making the best decisions for the sake of our children.