When I think about political brands in the imagination of the electorate, one anecdote told by a friend always comes to mind.

I think it was during one of the campaigns in Selangor, possibly a by-election after GE13.

The story goes that during a campaign visit to an elderly lady, the conversation had swung to the topic of the menteri besar.

This lady seemed quite enthusiastic about the current menteri besar (which at the time was Khalid Ibrahim), singing his praises.

The only problem was, my friend soon realised the lady was not talking about Khalid. She wasn’t even talking about Khir Toyo. She was talking about Muhammad Taib – the menteri besar from more than 15 years before – whom she thought was still in power.

A potential moral of this story is: it usually takes a good long while for new brands to supplant old ones.

Anecdotes aside, the data from recent by-elections suggest that new brands are not likely to gain much traction in such a short time, stacked against long-established brands like PAS and Umno.

Unite – a faded Goliath?

This applies equally to Bersatu. While Dr Mahathir Mohamad may be held in reasonably high regard, it is not a picture of his face that will be on the ballot.

Thus, Bersatu’s ability to penetrate areas traditionally contested by PAS and Umno is very much in question as well.

In reflecting on this, it may be wise to consider the likely profile of the Bersatu supporter. Most are likely to be ex-Umno, meaning they are used to have the full weight of the government’s machinery behind them, and extremely large coffers.

Now they have none of the above, and they would be going up against Umno (which has all of the above) on one hand, and PAS, which has been trained over multiple generations to be a viable David against Umno’s Goliath.

Whatever we may think of their ideology, PAS are veterans of guerrilla warfare and have built up a machine that has withstood the test of time.

Bersatu and its supporters, on the other hand, have literally never been tested.

Bold suggestion

Lastly, there is Iskandar Samad’s bold suggestion that Amanah and DAP merge.

I suppose this will sound ridiculous to a number of people, and understandably so. Also, it does not bring a whole lot of benefit for those in Amanah.

That said, if we look at it objectively, the data suggests that Amanah is going nowhere fast anyway.

In the two simultaneous by-elections last year, the majority of people who voted for Amanah were the ones told by DAP to. It would be unsurprising, too, if Amanah’s funding were traced back to DAP-linked sources.

Certainly, a merger would shore up DAP’s recent efforts to appear more cosmopolitan – a party for all Malaysians.

I predict that there will be no formal reconstitution of something like Pakatan Rakyat, as long as DAP and PKR remain allied with Amanah.

The feeling among PAS that the formation of Amanah is a treasonous slap to the face may run too deep, and the electoral overlap is excessive anyway. For PAS, it’s probably okay to fight within the party, but to leave and form a competing splinter party is likely just a step too far.

A DAP-Amanah merger, however outlandish, may solve at least that problem. Of course, an objective observer is still likely to list the odds of this actually happening at well under 50 percent.

Perhaps after a change of leadership, those in Amanah may rejoin PAS someday. Not super likely perhaps, but possible.

Grounded principles

Malaysian politics has always been an interesting mess. So many different interests pulling in different directions.

Like much in life, the way all the chips have fallen mean that there is no obvious ‘best’ route forward. We have to do our best and make the least imperfect of imperfect options.
As we do so, and as we are forced into compromises and sacrifices, I suppose the only way we can stay grounded is if we use as the basis of our decisions a solid set of principles, rooted in honest values.

If we can do that, then perhaps we can someday achieve what is truly best for all Malaysians, even if it isn’t perfect.

Yesterday: How unobjective polling leads to delusionary simulations.

– M’kini