SINGAPORE – Several new political parties have mushroomed in Penang since the 2013 general election and they are expected to throw their hats into a a crowded contest as Malaysia heads towards a national poll that is expected to be called in the next few months.
Observers told TODAY that these less established parties — Parti Cinta Malaysia, Penang Front Party, People’s Alternative Party and Malaysian United Party (MUP) — are expected to chip away votes from the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), which has governed the northern Malaysian state since 2008.
The new parties, however, are not expected to win any seats or gain widespread support.
“The real objective of these parties is to try to split the votes away from the DAP,” said Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar, a research fellow at the Penang Institute.
“The DAP in Penang has no rivals from among the (ruling) Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties, especially given that the Chinese-based MCA and Chinese-majority Gerakan are politically weak. This may well explain why there are many such ‘mosquito parties’ existing in Penang,” he added, referring to the Malaysian Chinese Association.
The four small parties are made up of mostly former leaders and members from BN as well as opposition parties like DAP, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Funded by members and supporters, including local community leaders, their focus is mainly on local issues rather than national ones.
Going by the feedback from locals whom TODAY spoke to, these parties face an uphill task to gain the support of voters.
“With the exception of Parti Cinta Malaysia, I’ve never heard of the other three,” said secretary Alicia Kan.
“I don’t know who they are, what are their capabilities or even if they are capable of representing me.”
Retiree Michael Ang was more critical, saying: “As far as Penangites are concerned, they are just trash waiting to be disposed completely. They are practically non-existence to the eyes of Penangites.”
DAP too has shrugged off the parties’ bid.
“Based on the personalities involved and the circumstances of their formation, it is not unreasonable to assume that there are certain quarters ‘backing’ these parties,” said Penang DAP vice-chairman Zairil Khir Johari.
“Their existence appears to be to cause as much confusion and noise in the Penang political landscape, in hopes of causing disaffection towards the Pakatan Harapan government.”
He was dismissive of the prospects of the new parties.
“These parties have not proven to be of any substance. They appear to be disgruntled personalities with personal bones of contention rather than true political movements,” he said.
Leaders of the four parties however, maintain that they present voters with alternatives to the conventional parties whom they said were either not serving the voters or preoccupied with disputes with other entities.
“They are busy fighting among themselves and against each other rather than serving the people,” Malaysian United Party (MUP) vice-president David Yim Boon Leong told TODAY.
MUP was set up last December to address the needs of the people, he said.
The founders of the party came from Penang-based non-governmental organisations, having some having years of experience in serving and helping the public.
It claimed to have about 10,000 members, most of them Malaysian Chinese who were former members of other established parties like DAP, Gerakan and MCA.
Mr Yim himself was a former MCA division secretary for the Bayan Baru district in Penang.
For now, MUP has no plans to contest in the upcoming general election as it lacks resources but Mr Yim does not discount a change in stance “if the people wants us to contest.”
Unlike MUP, the one-year-old Penang Front Party is raring to give it a go in the election.
With the campaign slogan “Penang for Penang Lang”, it plans to contest up to 25 state seats and five federal seats in Penang in the upcoming general election.
Unfazed with the prospect that new parties generally do not gain traction among Malaysian voters, chairman Patrick Ooi said that he is confident of clinching up to 10 state seats based on the fact that its candidates are young and local — which fits into their target audience.
The party has 5,000 members, of which 75 per cent are 40 years old and below.
He says he wants to capitalise on what he claims is a thread of unhappiness among Penangites with the state government under the leadership of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, saying that the latter had failed to fulfil his election pledges including building Chinese schools and upholding press freedom.
“Penang people love Penang. I am targetting these people and I am confident that they will support me,” said Mr Ooi, who dismissed claims that small parties like his are backed by DAP rivals, saying that the only support he received are from community leaders and Penang residents.