New Malay axis rattles Pakatan

Almost every state in the peninsula, with the exception of Penang, will be in danger for Pakatan Harapan if Umno and PAS contest the next general election as ‘husband and wife’. 

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Azmin Ali arrived in Kelantan just days after Umno and PAS announced that they were “married”.

If he had any reservations about the Umno-PAS pact, he kept it to himself and behaved as though PAS leaders were his dear friends.

Azmin was in Kelantan in his capacity as the chairman of the state Pakatan Harapan action council and he pressed all the right buttons.

He assured the Kelantan government on its oil royalty claim, he spoke of federal projects and job opportunities in the state and urged Kelantanese to return to help the state progress.

He called on the Tengku Mahkota as well as the Mentri Besar, he prayed at the Melor mosque on Friday and even drove himself to inspect a highway project that was under construction.

It was good optics following the barrage of criticism against him after the Semenyih defeat.

But like his Pakatan partners, Azmin is deeply worried about the new Malay axis formed by Umno and PAS.

The reason is plain and simple – more than half of the 222 parliamentary constituencies are Malay-majority seats where Umno and PAS hold sway.

Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian says the political landscape could change dramatically if the Umno-PAS pact continues into the next general election.

It is still early days but the Umno-PAS axis is set to be a game changer.

“During the last general election (GE14), PAS and Umno captured about 75% of the Malay vote.

“Malay voters account for nearly two-thirds of the electorate. A cooperative pact between the two largest Malay parties means that their core supporters alone are more than two-thirds of the Malay voters,” says Ibrahim.

He points out that there are currently at least 100 parliamentary seats that are 70% Malay-majority and which can easily go to these two parties.

It also means that Malay heartland states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang – where Malays form more than 75% of the population – will be beyond the reach of Pakatan.

Moreover, Kedah and Perak were basically hung assemblies, surviving only because of Umno cross-overs.

“With the exception of Penang, all the peninsular states currently held by Pakatan, including Selangor, will be in play,” says Ibrahim.

A list of 50 Pakatan-held parliamentary seats that will tumble to the combined might of PAS and Umno has been making the rounds on political chat groups.

The argument is that the combined votes of PAS and Umno in these 50 seats are much bigger than the votes secured by Pakatan candidates in GE14.

These seats include those held by Pakatan ministers and deputy ministers such as Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Datuk Mahfuz Omar, Datuk Saifuddin Nasution, Fuziah Salleh, Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof and Datuk Seri Rina Harun.

According to KRA strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim, the Umno-PAS pact will not have a national reach because the formula is unlikely to sell in Sabah and Sarawak.

However, says Amir, Pakatan-held states like Kedah and Perak, where PAS and Umno have a strong presence, will be in danger.

“Negri Sembilan, Melaka and potentially Johor could also be in danger for Pakatan especially if Umno were to buck up. But there is only so much that PAS can assist in boosting Umno in these areas,” says Amir.

The new Malay axis is a clear and present danger to Pakatan, which is facing an erosion of Malay support.

Pakatan leaders have slammed the development as a racial move.

But Umno leaders say they have no choice. They have been spurned by the non-Malays in two general elections and they need a new ally to survive the next one.

The reaction from some Pakatan leaders has been rather emotional, with some saying it is akin to “declaring war on non-Malays” and likening it to a “scorched earth policy”.

“The tables have been turned, they are clearly worried. PAS has been talking about being the kingmaker. I think we are seeing it now.

“Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wants the support of PAS,” says political commentator Dr Azmi Omar.

Pakatan leaders, says Amir, recognise the implications on the Malay ground and they will need to double up their efforts towards the Malay base.

All this is building up to a very disturbing trend that will see a ruling coalition dominated by non-Malays on one side and a Malay-dominated opposition on the other.

Every issue will tend to take on a racial angle and also a religious undertone because PAS tends to put an Islamic argument on every issue.

Together, PAS and Umno will become a very powerful and influential Malay voice.

There is also some sort of supreme irony at play. Umno, which used to be the biggest and most powerful component in Barisan Nasional, has been rejected by the non-Malays.

More than 90% of the Chinese voted against Barisan Nasional in the last two general elections because of their dislike for Umno.

Now, it is DAP’s turn to feel the heat. The Chinese-dominated party is the most cohesive and strongest bloc in Pakatan but has since become a target of hatred among Malays.

Whatever advances DAP made on the Malay ground have been reversed and the perception, rightly or wrongly, is that DAP leaders are calling the shots in Pakatan.

The PAS-Umno pact will soon be put to a stringent test in Rantau, which is a mixed seat that would have favoured Pakatan before the Malay vote turned sour on them.

Malays make up about 54% of the voters, Indians 27% and Chinese 19%.

Analysts have been predicting another win for Umno but the by-election will be challenging for both sides because the non-Malay mood is still stoically pro-Pakatan.

Incumbent Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has enjoyed a reputation as a moderate Malay leader during his years as Negri Sembilan mentri besar but he will have to lean on the new Malay pact to pull through.

Is Malaysia on the way to being a nation divided given the racial alignments in national politics?

“Race and religion will likely be part of the PAS and Umno rhetoric. Hopefully, Pakatan will not be tempted to outdo them on this front. Fighting fire with fire will not do anyone good,” says Amir.