A fractured opposition cannot win the next general election

Politically, the best option for the nation is to have a two-party or two-coalition system. Voters can make a choice between the two. This though may not happen when there are too many political parties in the country with each being ambitious about winning in elections.

Moaz Nair, Free Malaysia Today

The 15th general election will most likely see a few political coalitions and parties contesting in Peninsular Malaysia – BN (Barisan Nasional), PN (Perikatan Nasional), and PH (Pakatan Harapan). There will also be other parties such as Pejuang, Warisan, and Muda joining the fray.

The real contest however would be among the three coalitions – BN, PN and PH – unless the opposition parties are able to form a united front against BN. A fractured opposition will be advantageous to BN as votes for the opposition parties will be split giving little chance for PN and PH to trounce BN.

The political league

BN consists of Umno, MCA, MIC and Sabah-based PBRS. In the recent Melaka and Johor state elections, BN triumphed even though the coalition did not garner more than the combined votes obtained by PN and PH in many seats. The split votes between PN and PH gave a comfortable victory to BN.

As for grassroots support, ostensibly Umno has more advantage, as it is a long-established party claiming to have over 3 million members. BN can also bank on MCA and MIC, as Umno has pretty well dumped MN (Muafakat Nasional) – a political coalition that was formed with PAS, an Islamic party, against the then-ruling PH coalition which had come into power after the 2018 general election.

If PAS collaborates with BN, it will push non-Malay voters away from the coalition. MN’s quietus is not a great loss to Umno, as this time around, the non-Malays would have no qualms voting for BN. Another forte of BN is that the Malays, Chinese and Indians are formally represented by Umno, MCA and MIC respectively in the coalition. Umno has also extended its membership to non-Malay Bumiputeras which makes the party fairly acceptable in Sabah.

PAS’s electoral base is in Peninsular Malaysia’s rural and conservative north and east coast. The party with its flip-flop “Islamic agenda” has found it difficult to penetrate the west coast states, Sabah and Sarawak and is generally disliked by the non-Muslim electorate.

PN is a political coalition comprising Bersatu, PAS, STAR, SAPP and Gerakan. Though PN seems to be united as a coalition it may not be able to rout BN. PN not only has to contest against BN, it also has to face PH. This is where votes will be further split to the advantage of BN.

PN, however, is a new coalition and has not really found a sturdy base at the grassroots level. Only PAS in PN has some 800,000 members, as claimed, and Bersatu plus the non-performing Gerakan have to depend on PAS to get substantial votes. But again, PAS has a relatively strong foothold in only three states – Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah. The party is not popular in many other states including Sabah (with 25 seats) and Sarawak (31) where 56 parliamentary seats are up for grabs.

PAS, for that matter, is now perceived to be at its lowest ebb politically. Gerakan is perceived as another weak link in PN and may find it almost impossible to win significant votes in Chinese majority seats. As such, PN may not be able to bank on PAS and Gerakan to drub BN and capture Putrajaya. Bersatu has lost its clout as the party’s supremo is no longer the prime minister. Voters still have the perception that PN is a beleaguered front and a newcomer that has not made much impact in the country’s political landscape. This leaves PN in a limbo.

PH is a grouping of PKR, Amanah, DAP and Upko. The coalition will have an arduous task ahead in the next general election compared with its strength in the 14th general election. The recent Melaka and Johor state elections saw the poor performance of PKR, Amanah and even DAP to an extent, due to rash and inconsistent strategies. For PH to win as a coalition it has to be propped up with talented leaders and new formulas. It should even look forward to working with more political parties to form a bigger tent. Malay support is crucial for the coalition but Amanah on its own is not able to draw substantial Malay votes for the coalition. PKR and DAP on the other hand are multi-racial parties.

GPS in Sarawak comprises PBB, SUPP , PRS and PDP. The four parties are former component parties of BN. GPS is presently supportive of PN but is really more neutral in its stand. GPS would most likely support any coalition that controls Putrajaya.

A fractured Opposition

BN will most likely face a fractured opposition in the 15th general election. In politics, voter perception matters. Voters may see the fractured opposition as being unable to bring political stability to the country. The campaign mantra of BN and GPS of late has been “stability”. Fed up with the political instability in the country, voters would prefer a front that is cohesive.

GPS won 76 of the 82 Sarawak state seats recently, leaving the fractured opposition with only six seats. PH suffered a crushing defeat, with DAP winning only two seats for the coalition, experiencing a decline from seven seats in 2016. Its other component parties, PKR and Amanah lost in all seats contested. It shows that voters want a stable government and rightly chose GPS to govern the state.

The Melaka and Johor state elections saw BN win big leaving the opposition in tatters. Voters could not accept PN as an alternative despite the coalition being part of the incumbent central government.

The 14th general election saw a united opposition front comprising PKR, DAP, Amanah and Bersatu, contesting under one logo against BN. Bersatu has since left the front and some other MPs have left to form Pejuang and Muda, further splitting the opposition.

The ‘Big Tent’

The opposition coalition needs to go beyond PH or PN to gain the acceptance of the people in the 15th general election. Cooperation between the larger opposition parties is seen as a pragmatic strategy, as the people would support a more united team.

Only by having a single pact can the opposition make an impact in GE15. It was the one-umbrella strategy that had worked for the opposition in the 14th general election. And to strengthen the support of the Malays and Bumiputeras, there must be cooperation with those parties that represent this group of voters and the involvement of more credible figures.

The results of GE14 in 2018 saw Malay voters’ support for the opposition bloc represented by PH increase to 14% compared with 8% in GE13. PH had 25-30% of the Malay votes. At that time, BN lost about 20% of the Malay votes it had obtained in GE13.

The results of the Melaka and Johor state elections show that PH failed to sustain the Malay support it received in GE14. After Bersatu left PH, the Malay votes for PH declined. It cannot be denied that from the countries’ demographic point of view Malay votes are significant to win elections.

Too many political parties with too many diferent agendas going separate ways does not bode well for the country. The ideal formula for the country would still be to have a two-party or two-coalition system. Political leaders should put their personal ego and interests aside and work towards achieving this formula for the sake of the country and its people.

As for the opposition, the leaders should stop squabbling among themselves and get into a zone that is ego-free if they have any intention of taking over Putrajaya.