Defections of Bersatu MPs reveal PH’s weak electoral base

While the impression is that Anwar Ibrahim’s “unity government” is strong and popular, there are several signs that may indicate otherwise.

Murray Hunter

The recent orchestration of pledges of support by Bersatu MPs for the Anwar Ibrahim government suggests the “unity government” cannot ensure the majority it should have on paper.

Technically, Anwar has swelled his parliamentary support to 151 MPs (out of the 222 members of the Dewan Rakyat). However, this number could crumble under extraordinary circumstances, over some contentious situation or issue.

What is also most crucial is the potential electoral support for Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Umno who form the core part of the unity government.

Anwar has used his “spin doctors” to create the impression that the unity government is strong and popular. However, there are several signs that may indicate otherwise. The rest of this article looks at the myths promoted by the PH public relations machine, and the hidden threats to the unity government.

Myth of a popular and loved PM

Many media opportunities were used to create the impression of Anwar as a loved and popular prime minister. There are events created for this purpose every week.

However, a search through social media shows a completely different story. Anwar Ibrahim may have 2.5 million followers on Facebook, but posts generate only 1-3 thousand likes. Many of the comments praising Anwar suspiciously come from accounts which are not complete, or appear to not be a real person.

Although Anwar has a hardcore loyal following, there is more mythology than reality regarding Anwar’s personal popularity. If that popularity had existed, PH would have most probably performed much better in the August state elections.

Erosion of voter support for PKR

In the 2022 general election, PH won 38% of the aggregate vote, losing a net 18 seats from the previous election. The 82 seats PH held in the new Parliament was far short of the 112 seats required of any coalition to form a government.

The coalition, and PKR in particular, has been losing support among the electorate over the last decade.

In 2013, PH (with PAS) won 50.88% of the aggregate vote. Without PAS, PKR and DAP combined won around 37% of the aggregate vote.

In the 2018 general election, the aggregate vote for PH (with the newly formed Amanah as partner) went up to 45.67%.

In 2022, PKR won only 15% of the national vote, or 31 seats. The vote-share was even lower than that of Umno, which won 16.43% of the aggregate vote.

PKR has much soul searching to do to remain electorally relevant in the long term, while DAP’s vote has remained solid over the last decade.

PM by grace of the King

The only reason Anwar is the prime minister today was the King’s goodwill in brokering a deal to form a “unity government”. It was Umno, the PH nemesis, which enabled the formation of a coalition.

Without royal intervention, Anwar would have most probably been the opposition leader.

Together, PH and Barisan Nasional received 60% of the aggregate vote, but gained only 112 of the 222 parliamentary seats. It was only the support of East Malaysian parties that gave the coalition any sense of stability.

Pakatan Harapan’s real policies

Some (apologists for PH) claim that the government is a unity government and not a reformist one and consequently, Anwar is not obliged to implement reformist policies.

This justification is wearing very thin with the traditional PH support base now.

On the whole, the government has been conservative, and has leaned towards Islam, steering further away from secularism. The unity government’s policy platform is no different from those of governments before it.

PH may not be able to rely upon its traditional support base at the next general election.

PH is not the natural government

The bottom line for PH is that it’s not the natural government of Malaysia. The performance of opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional at the recent state elections indicates that the natural government of Malaysia would be a Malay- Islamic centric one in the future.

The current government lacks policy, charisma, trust, and is unable to capture the hopes of voters. This suggests that the current orchestrated defections from Bersatu appears to be Anwar’s prime strategy for survival.