Burden on Umno to deliver in Penang

Joceline Tan, The Star

DAP leaders at the recent DAP state convention used the occasion to blow their own trumpet and who can blame them?

The party, which is still at a peak, has led Pakatan Harapan in Penang to one spectacular win after another over the last 15 years.

Pakatan’s two-thirds majority in the state government has been unbroken since 2008.

DAP, with 40 parliamentary seats, is also the biggest party in the Unity Government.

But as DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke indicated at the convention, the state election expected by the middle of the year will be challenging and a solid win is crucial to strengthen Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s government.

Pakatan is no danger of losing the state or even its two-thirds majority in Penang.

The primary concern is whether it can hold on to the Malay seats.

There are a total of 14 state seats with 60% to 90% Malay voters. Eleven of these seats are located in Seberang Perai and three on the island.

Pakatan had a near perfect run in 2018, winning 37 of the 40 state constituencies, leaving the crumbs to Umno, which won two state seats in Bertam and Permatang Berangan, while PAS won Penaga.

The Hokkien joke in Penang is that Umno “su ka lau kor” (lost their pants) in 2018 before losing even their underwear when it was completely wiped out in the last general election.

But the trouble with perfection is that it is hard to repeat and the concern is whether the green wave will roll over the Malay-majority seats in the state polls.

The second green wave, if it materialises, will come from the north.

Seberang Perai and Kedah are next door neighbours and the charismatic Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor is currently the man of the moment up north.

“It was frightening when Permatang Pauh and Kepala Batas fell. I felt the Malays were trying to tell us something,” said Dr Thor Teong Ghee, a former politician who is now with an established medical centre in Penang.

In Kepala Batas, which is synonymous to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a former minister lost to an unknown from PAS. In Permatang Pauh, PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar was defeated by PAS preacher.

It was like Seberang Prai had been hit by an earthquake and that is why Pakatan is not taking anything for granted.

“I am cautiously optimistic, I’m not not under-estimating the green wave. Perikatan Nasional is a wounded tiger, they will use the 3M – (social) media, money and (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin (Yassin),” said Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin.

At the same time, Sim said Pakatan will be going in as the government in Putrajaya and lots of success stories in Penang.

“I believe Malay voters will rethink their political choices and give Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s administration the chance to deliver,” he said.

Both sides insist they will do well but none of them want to make predictions.

“Perikatan is not in the same commanding position at the time of the last general election. They hammered at Umno on corruption but it has boomeranged on them.

“They cannot be holier than thou anymore. There will be obstacles to the green wave,” said Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy.

In November, it was largely about three coalitions competing to get to Putrajaya.

But with no hope of toppling the Penang government, the state election will, at most, be about denying the ruling coalition another sweeping win.

Will that be enough to motivate voters to come out or will they stay at home?

Will the Malay base that wiped out Umno last year and delivered three parliamentary seats to Perikatan emerge to protest what they view as political prosecution and tyranny against Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other Bersatu leaders?

The most asked question is whether Pakatan and Umno can work together to deliver the Malay seats?

One would think that such bizarre twists and turns happen only in K-dramas, but after decades of demonising Umno as a corrupt and racist party, Pakatan is joining hands with Umno to stall the green wave.

“I’m not sure how the Umno base will accept this but I don’t see Malays outside of Umno coming along,” said former Umno assemblyman Dato Dr Farid Saad.

Farid said it is no secret that non-Malays are terrified of PAS while many Malays distrust DAP.

“Moreover, the outcome of the Umno elections is not inspiring to young Malays. Too many tired faces who have overstayed,” said Farid.

Umno’s ability to deliver the Malay seats is critical for the stability of the Unity Government.

Otherwise Anwar will find himself having to defend his government against a Malay-dominant opposition.

Umno’s reputation is on the line. It will be under pressure to show its new friends in Pakatan that it commands Malay support.

The burden is on Umno to deliver the Malay seats.