Anwar’s Raya charm offensive not likely to crack PAS strongholds, say analysts

(MMO) – Parties in the national unity government were doubtful to have an easier time campaigning in Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu later this year despite the added benefits Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim rolled out for Aidilfitri, political analysts predicted.

They said while voters in those states would appreciate the measures such as the extra public holiday and four days of toll-free travel for their “balik kampung”, these will not be remembered during the elections expected around July.

The Malaysia Madani Aidilfitri open houses mostly held in states due to have elections this year were also unlikely to make PAS and Perikatan Nasional (PN) supporters more receptive to their rivals’ overtures, they added.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said the voters in the three Malay heartland states were more concerned with a party’s religious values than anything else.

“Not much significant inroad, I reckon, as the voters there appear to have quite a different matrix of needs and wants, which are more spiritual than temporal in nature,” he said, when asked if Anwar’s measures would soften the states for Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies.

To have a chance in the Malay heartland, Oh said Anwar and those aligned with him would have to engage in religious one-upmanship, but warned that this would be difficult when PAS has already made itself “almost synonymous with religiosity.”

During the 14th general election, PAS emphatically demonstrated its appeal in Malay heartland states when PN candidates contesting on its tickets swept all the federal seats in Kelantan, Terengganu, and Perlis as well as coming within a seat of doing so in Kedah.

Already battling this disadvantage, Senior Fellow at Nusantara Academic for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan said no amount of enticement could help the parties in the national unity government overcome being aligned with DAP.

After decades of rivalry with Malay based parties including current ally Umno, DAP has been effectively vilified as a political bogeyman for the community.

Azmi said this depiction of DAP, which was technically multiracial but dominated by the Chinese, would be an albatross around the neck of allies hoping to make inroads into the PAS states.

“I think that’s the stigma that Anwar cannot avoid because the voters in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu are very sensitive towards DAP in this case,” he told Malay Mail.

Azmi suggested that Umno could lead the national unity government’s campaign for the three states to maximise the chance of appealing to the Malay majority.

Some such as Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said that while Kelantan and Terengganu voters were not likely to be moved by Anwar’s attempts to win them over, those in Kedah might still be swayed.

However, he said this would depend on how PH and Barisan Nasional manage their seat distributions, as any fallout would give PN the advantage.

For assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia Syaza Shukri, however, the Malaysia Madani Aidilfitri open houses in the three states were likely to have left attendees with a positive impression of Anwar.

She told Malay Mail Anwar’s personable nature was likely to soften voters who were not completely hostile towards his coalition.

“But how big is that sway, I’m not sure, because it appears mixed at the moment.

“People have not felt much difference. Policy wise the average Malaysians can’t make sense of them,” she said.

Last month, Anwar announced an additional public holiday to bookend Hari Raya Aidilfitri, giving the entire country a four-day weekend to enjoy one of its largest religious festivals.

He then added to this by announcing toll-free travel on major highways in the peninsula, to give travellers more time to make their ways to and from their hometowns.

While his administration did away with the traditional Cabinet open house this year, several Malaysia Madani events were held in states that were coincidentally due to have elections by July.

Aside from Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu, state elections must also be held for Negeri Sembilan, Penang, and Selangor. All six states did not dissolve their assemblies for the general election last year.