Analysts see Pejuang faltering in bid to become ‘third force’

(FMT) – Political analysts foresee Dr Mahathir’s Mohamad’s Pejuang faltering in its goal to become a formidable “third force” in the 15th general election.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs researcher Oh Ei Sun said Pejuang would be lucky to even retain any of its seats, while Universiti Malaya political scientist Awang Azman Pawi said Mahathir’s party faced an uphill battle to become the third force.

Oh acknowledged that Mahathir might still hold some political attraction among rural Malays, but a key factor was that Pejuang lacked the election machinery that major coalitions had at their disposal.

“Pejuang should count itself lucky if its MPs can hold on to their seats. It remains to be seen how they would fare in other seats, with the other three coalitions likely to also contest those seats and edge them out,” he told FMT.

Awang Azman said a factor that would hinder Pejuang’s success as a third bloc would be its small membership, thus restricting its growth in each state.

He told FMT it would be tough for Pejuang to compete with more well-established entities despite Mahathir’s influence, saying parties like Umno, PKR, DAP and even PAS had bigger sway.

“They have been long established and have more divisions, branches and a strong party structure.

“Mahathir’s opposition to the Pakatan Harapan, Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional blocs will make Pejuang a dwarf in terms of its ability to compete. And his stand that the manifesto isn’t a bible will cause Pejuang to be rejected even more,” he said.

Mahathir said in an interview with an online portal recently that Pejuang would continue as its own bloc for GE15 and will not join other coalitions as it wanted to become a third force at the polls.

He said Pejuang might form a coalition with “like-minded” parties, particularly naming Shafie Apdal’s Warisan and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s MUDA.

Oh said Warisan stands to lose support in Sabah if it chooses to work with Mahathir although the party would gain some foothold in Malay heartlands.

He said Warisan’s presence in the peninsula was mainly to team up with MUDA or Pejuang, or at least provide temporary political shelter to them, and thus submit itself to the as yet untested political strength of its partners.

“It would have to carefully weigh the political trade-offs,” he said.

But Awang Azman said Syed Saddiq and Shafie’s close ties to Mahathir would make it difficult for them not to work with Pejuang.

He said they seemed subservient to Mahathir, which affected their decision-making and their parties’ fate in the long-term, particularly singling out their decision not to back Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister candidate previously.

“Voters will consider Warisan and MUDA as being unable to move forward as long as they continue trusting in Mahathir’s leadership,” he said.

Pejuang and MUDA have not yet been registered with the Registrar of Societies, but it was previously reported that Warisan was planning to expand to the peninsula in partnership with Syed Saddiq’s party.

During PH’s tumultuous 22 months in government, Shafie and Syed Saddiq were noted by observers as among Mahathir’s loyalists.