Make or break decisions for Bersatu

A political party now sharing power with Umno in the government faces potential banishment to the cross-benches, being sidelined by both government and the opposition.

(FMT) – Bersatu is an embattled party. Its future depends upon cooperation with either Umno or Pakatan Harapan to survive the coming general election. Alone, Bersatu will struggle to survive.

The prime reason Bersatu became a political party was because of then deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s sacking by former prime minister Najib Razak over his criticism of Najib and the 1MDB issue.

Muhyiddin was soon joined by Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his son, Mukhriz, after expulsion from Umno.

With support from DAP, PKR and Amanah under the umbrella of PH, the grouping defeated Najib and the Barisan Nasional at the 2018 general election.

During the election campaign, Mahathir hammered the 1MDB issue and Najib’s corruption across the Malay heartlands and Bersatu managed to win 13 of the 50 seats it contested.

Bersatu was able to grow its parliamentary numbers through party defections, increasing to 32 federal MPs, primarily from Umno, along with the ex-PKR Azmin Ali group.

Muhyiddin is holding together a party consisting of three factions – the Muhyiddin group, the ex-Umno group with MPs like Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, Abdul Latif Ahmad and Mustafa Mohamed, and the ex-PKR group, led by Azmin, with Zuraida Kamaruddin and Kamaruddin Jaafar.

Without Muhyiddin, these groups could erupt into a battle for control of the party. However, at this point in time, Muhyiddin is set to lead the party into the coming general election.

Muhyiddin hoped that his resignation as prime minister would have given the party more popularity, leaving Barisan Nasional to take electoral blame for the poor economy. However, this has not come to fruition as Umno has been steadily increasing its electoral appeal. This will dampen Bersatu’s chances within the Malay heartlands which equate to about 80 potential seats.

Bersatu’s electoral prospects will come down to members’ individual branding, and campaigning skills. A lot will depend upon whether Bersatu will face two-cornered or three-cornered contests as well.

Evergreens like Mustapa Mohamed in Kelantan should get re-elected on his personal reputation. Azmin has baggage with his role in the Sheraton Move, but he and Zuraida have large majorities within their respective constituencies and control over the grassroots.

However, in the last Johor state election, Bersatu performed extremely poorly. Teaming up with PAS under Perikatan Nasional (PN), Bersatu contested 33 seats and could only win two. Back in 2018, Bersatu won 12 state seats. This was in Muhyiddin’s home state, which was a deep psychological blow to the party.

Bersatu, being a party of defectors, will face some strong contests, as both Umno and PKR attempt to win back seats which they believe are rightfully theirs.

It can be expected that Bersatu will lose many seats to Umno, leaving the party with possibly only eight to 24 MPs in Parliament, with 24 being the best case scenario.

Umno is expected to dominate electorally, potentially leaving Bersatu only a shadow of its current state today. The only optimistic point is that Bersatu, during the Johor state election, did actually garner 24.04% of the popular vote, indicating that there is a base to work from.

This popularity, due to the nature of the first-past-the-post voting system, has to be focused in specific constituencies in order for Bersatu candidates to win them.

Presently, Bersatu is heading into the next general election with only PAS by its side, which is only expected to perform well in Kelantan and Terengganu this time round.

Bersatu is very tight on electoral options for the coming general election. Standing alone without the support it had from PH during the last federal election and without Mahathir pounding the 1MDB case against Najib, Bersatu will be decimated.

This would most probably be enough for the remaining members to find a way to jump the Bersatu ship. This implies the Bersatu leadership is urgently looking for some sort of electoral alliance, as speculation indicates.

Any alliance with Umno is most likely out of the question. The Umno rank-and-file are against it. The Umno leadership believes that Bersatu can be defeated electorally and any alliance would unnecessarily cost Umno seats. The Melaka and Johor state elections were proof of this.

Recent state electoral results hint voters who are leaving PH are not going directly to Barisan Nasional. Many votes drifted across to Bersatu.

This is where Bersatu could differentiate from the other Malay-centric parties, with a softer stance on Ketuanan Melayu.

The party supports the monarchy, recognises a multicultural nation, and believes in freedom of religion, education, harmony and culture.

At the same time, Bersatu believes in the special rights of the Malays and the native peoples of Sabah and Sarawak.

For those drifting from PH, Bersatu could make a play for these votes by projecting itself as a more moderate Malay-centric party.

Bersatu might be able to do well in PKR and Amanah seats won with narrow margins. It can try and soak up the votes that PH is going to lose in this general election.

The logic here is that it would be advantageous for PH to work with Bersatu with an “anything but Umno” strategy.

Anwar Ibrahim has already seen this opportunity, although many within PKR consider even thinking like this as abhorrent. Though, electorally, there is some logic to this strategy, many see that this would reward the treacherous Azmin group.

Bersatu’s decisions will be make-or-break for the party. It is perhaps the only party that gained its power and representation through backroom deals and defections. These sources of power and influence have all now dried up. There are not too many in town willing to do any deal with Bersatu.

With no deals, both Bersatu and PH will electorally suffer. Umno will laugh all the way to Putrajaya and no longer have to share power with Bersatu.

It will be interesting to see how and if any accommodation will be made between Bersatu and PH.