Don’t mistake political cooperation for Malay unity, says analyst

The leanings of the general demographic towards these parties were unlikely to shift despite how they run the government, as Malay heartland voters would stand by them.

(FMT) – The push for political cooperation among the three main Malay-Muslim parties of Umno, Bersatu and PAS should not be confused with the actual unity of the Malay community, says a political analyst.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung said political parties should not be seen as being the representatives of Malay people, although the parties might garner Malay votes come election time.

He told FMT the majority of Malays were actually apolitical and were not members of any political party, and that it was common to see differing political leanings even in a family.

“All this indicates that there are other factors that unite the Malays. To be more straightforward, it’s more on the political campaign strategy.

“If they can persuade their party supporters to vote for one candidate that has been agreed upon, whether PAS, Umno or Bersatu, then the probability that they will get the most votes, is higher.

“It’s much better than letting the vote split. But that’s political strategy, not Malay unity,” he said.

Diehard supporters won’t shift

PAS has remained a constant advocate of bringing together the warring parties of Umno and Bersatu under Muafakat Nasional (MN), with party leaders constantly repeating the need for Malay-Muslim parties to stay united.

While Umno has said it will not work with Bersatu in facing the next general election, and calls have been growing for PAS to choose between the two, the three parties continue to be partners in the government even after Muhyiddin Yassin’s ousting.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said that with the three parties banding together, most Malay voters would gravitate towards them, regardless of their performance in the government.

“For rural and die-hard supporters of Umno and PAS especially, it doesn’t matter how the parties run the country. What matters to the supporters is that these parties think about race, religion and royalty. That trumps everything else.

“Of course, when Umno is there to disperse the gravy train and goodies, they’ll be even more inclined to support Umno. They support PAS because of religious appeal, Umno because of racial and material appeal,” he told FMT.

How the heartland voter thinks

National Council of Professors fellow Jeniri Amir agreed. He said traditional voters in the Malay heartland were likely to support one of these parties, even without any collaboration with each other.

He told FMT the leanings of the general demographic towards these parties were unlikely to shift despite how they run the government, as Malay heartland voters would stand by them.

“There are some real ardent supporters of PAS and Umno. To them, these parties are able to champion Malay rights. They will still support them despite how the government is seen as being unsuccessful in tackling Covid-19 and managing the economy.”

However, Jeniri said this political narrative was not the way forward for the nation as unity and social cohesion were paramount for Malaysia and its various racial groups, pointing out that there were about 65 different ethnicities in Sabah and Sarawak alone.

He said the rhetorical claims about Malay unity would only be politically useful in the short term but in the long run, the parties would need to shift to a more inclusive style of politics.