The political consequences of the coming state elections
Anwar Ibrahim’s legitimacy as prime minister is at stake and Zahid Hamidi’s future hangs in the balance
MURRAY HUNTER, Free Malaysia Today
With the coming state elections in Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan barely two weeks away, their significance is beginning to show.
With just over 40% of the nation’s voters eligible to take part, the elections will be a plebiscite on the performance of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the coalition he and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stitched together after a hung Parliament emerged following the last general election.
No party or coalition was given a clear mandate to govern, and it appears there are many party members and voters who silently disapprove of the political solution imposed upon them.
Based upon the results of the last general election, held last year, a surge towards Perikatan Nasional (PN) is expected. The surveys and polls that have come out since tend to confirm this, although most are taken from small samples.
While there was 74.06% voter turnout in the last general election, the Johor state election, held a few months earlier, had only a 54.92% voter turnout.
These elections may receive a high level of voter apathy, despite the politically literate considering the stakes to be high.
Voter turnout will be a major indicator of the state of politics in the nation. It will show the levels of voter indifference and motivation to vote within the community.
The performance of Umno will have a great influence on Malaysian politics over the next few years. If Umno nears decimation, as many pundits expect, it will confirm that the “sands are drastically shifting” within Malay voter cohorts.
In the 2013 general election, Umno won 88 parliamentary seats with 3,241,290 votes, while in 2022 Umno only won 26 seats with 2,549,341 votes.
In 2013, the party had a 29.32% share of the aggregate vote, while in 2022, Umno had only a 16.43% share of the aggregate vote.
Based on the 2022 general election vote, it is difficult to see Umno successfully defending many of the state seats it holds.
If the above proves to be true, then Zahid as both president of Umno and deputy prime minister will be in a precarious position.
Zahid as leader has overseen the party decline into near extinction. For Umno to survive, Zahid will need to resign as president and allow others to try to keep a sinking ship afloat.
As deputy prime minister, he has become an even bigger embarrassment and more importantly, the weak link in the current governing coalition.
Any dropping of criminal charges against Zahid after the elections, as some are hinting, may have to be revised to avoid public outrage.
To maintain any semblance of integrity within the government, Zahid will have to be cut loose from the Cabinet for the Madani era of government to survive.
Simply put, Zahid as deputy prime minister has led to a loss of legitimacy and political instability.
The Madani government does not reflect the will of a majority of voters. It is an artificial coalition put together to keep the government running with a sense of stability. This coalition far from satisfies the majority of voters.
If the political environment becomes unstable once again, it is important that alternative combinations exist to govern the country.
However, politicians may have to imagine, explore and compromise. This could become a third force coalition that brings Sabah and Sarawak to the fore with nominally non-Malay-centric parties based on the peninsula.
If the “impossible” happens, then GE16 will be a straight fight between a Malay-centric coalition and a pan-Malaysian coalition.
This could be the only way out of potential political instability, turning the political fight in future elections into a competition to win the hearts and minds of a core of Malay voters on the peninsula who are neither committed to PH nor PN.
The DAP, holding 40 seats in the federal Parliament, is the major party within the Madani government. Yet it is isolated and grossly under-represented in the Cabinet.
In many states, , with the exception of Penang, the DAP puts up the numbers in the assemblies so a Malay chief minister can be appointed.
The message here is that DAP must undergo a metamorphosis and reflect the diversity of the nation’s population. Looking at the candidates put up for the coming state election, it looks to be doing the opposite.
Likewise, PKR must listen more to its own grassroots and lose the influence of its tightly knit leadership. PKR cannot be a “one-man” party anymore. There is no point trying to be a democratic party and reforming the nation when the party itself requires democratic reform.
It is the party membership which must create policy bottom-up, which the parliamentary members of PKR must implement.
The DAP and PKR parliamentarians must be party representatives, and not party dictators.
The coming state elections are a golden opportunity for Bersatu to take the place of Umno as the natural party of choice within the Malay heartlands. Bersatu will take advantage of the void left wide open by Umno.
PAS is expected to increase its presence more than it has ever before. This will assist the party to perform even better in future elections.
The rise of PAS has partly been a product of the Islamisation Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim embarked upon in the early to mid-1990s.
PN is on target to perform even better in GE16.
We have to see what shape the coalition takes in the future. If Bersatu leads the coalition, then there should not be any major issues over attracting foreign investment. In fact, some members of Anwar’s current Cabinet are former PN Cabinet members.
The small parties
Although Muda has a diverse range of candidates, and PSM has a number of Indian candidates who could bolster Indian representation in the state assemblies, most of them will probably lose their deposits.
This does not look like an election that independents or “mosquito” parties will do well in, due to the polarisation of the electorate.
PSM is a strong NGO, but Muda over the next few years will travel into the abyss.
A strong showing by PN will put a deep dent in Anwar’s legitimacy.
Anwar will have to deeply reflect upon his performance and make major changes to survive.
The collapse of Umno will bring major new challenges, and fuel more speculation of political instability.
Anwar’s ally Zahid may be unsalvageable. Zahid must face the due process of his upcoming court cases, which may take several years.
For the Madani government to survive the next general election, it will pivot towards PN’s ideologies. This is the trajectory it has been travelling along anyway.
The election results may put a full term for Anwar at some potential risk, if the message from the voters is a big “thumbs down”.