Frozen funds could slow but won’t stop Perikatan’s ‘Green Wave’, analysts say

(MMO) – Islamist party PAS’ religious-ideological loyalist will likely overcome any campaigning handicaps Perikatan Nasional could suffer from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) freezing Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s accounts, said political analysts.

While saying the suspension pending an ongoing investigation would make it more difficult for the coalition to maintain the momentum from the 15th general election, they predicted that unwavering support for the Islamist party would be a major mitigating factor.

Senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan noted that PN’s unexpected performance in GE15 was believed to have been due to “luxurious” spending by Bersatu then.

PN took the second-highest number of votes in GE15, despite being written off earlier in what had been expected to be a straight fight between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional.

It also kept up its momentum with subsequent by-election victories, prompting observers to dub the phenomenon a “green wave”, in reference to the signature colour of PAS.

“One thing for sure, it (Bersatu’s frozen accounts) will curtail Perikatan Nasional’s campaign machinery because it has been said that why they (PN) performed much better than Barisan Nasional in the last general election was due to the campaign.

“Some said that it was very, very luxurious and expensive, so, for sure most of the coalition’s money is in the Bersatu central account,” he told Malay Mail.

In the fiercely-fought general election, Bersatu overcame its lack of grassroots presence with a spectacularly effective social media campaign, most notably on the TikTok video sharing platform.

Assistant Professor of Political Science at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Syaza Shukri said that without Bersatu’s funds, further rounds of PN’s campaign on social media platforms would be unlikely during the six state elections this year.

Still, she believed this would only have a “slight impact” for PN as most PAS supporters would continue supporting the Islamist party and its allies for the ideological foundation it has nurtured since it was first established.

“Mostly it would be difficult for them to go all out on social media like they did in GE15. But those who support them will continue doing so,” she said.

When asked about the inability to reach fence sitters in the six polls, Syaza said it was possible that this group would not be a factor due to the lower perceived stake of the polls, which could also amplify the effects of the PN’s hardcore supporters.

“The fence sitters, with no incentive and perhaps less visibility on social media, will not be swayed to vote for any party,” she added.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun added that the MACC’s action against Bersatu could also increase sympathy for the PN coalition, as supporters would accept the claim that the investigation was concocted and politically motivated.

Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin made such an allegation after it was revealed that his party’s accounts have been frozen by the MACC, calling the move “political persecution”.

Noting the lack of controversy after some PAS leaders downplayed alleged vote buying during the general election, Oh said it was feasible that the MACC’s investigation would turn only casual supporters away from PN.

“It would appear that a large portion of PN supporters are PAS supporters, in whose eyes PAS and by extension whichever party PAS endorses could do no wrong,” he told Malay Mail.

Last week, the MACC confirmed that two Bersatu accounts have been frozen to facilitate investigations under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

PN chairman and former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin reacted with indignance and insisted that Bersatu’s accounts had been audited previously, and would hobble his coalition’s chances in the six state elections.

According to Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) sociopolitical analyst Associate Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, PN should still expect greater fallout than just difficulty funding its election campaigns.

He said it was inevitable that the MACC investigations would hurt the coalition’s attempt to position itself as the “clean” alternative to the parties currently in government, such as Umno.

“The investigation and the freeze will still have an impact. However, the extent of the impact depends on the next action, for example if a PN politician is brought to court over this issue then this will have a negative impact on PN,” he said.

It is understood that the accounts in question were frozen as part of the MACC’s probe into alleged irregularities in the use of RM600 billion worth of public funds meant for the Covid-19 pandemic when Muhyiddin was the prime minister.

Several news reports also suggested that the MACC action was linked to allegations that Bersatu received donations from about 10 contractors who were said to have procured various public projects when the party was in government.

It is believed that the donations amounted to more than RM300 million.