KUALA LUMPUR – Umno’s efforts to portray DAP as the true power of Pakatan Harapan is to dissuade Malay voters from backing the federal opposition, according to political observers.
Academic Ooi Kee Beng said the strategy was a continuation of Malaysia’s decades-old communal politics, adding that it could still be effective despite changes that have made Malaysian society “very complex.”
He added it could also drive the Malay community to overlook current shortcomings of the ruling administration that they might otherwise not have, in a desire to stem the supposed rise of a communal bogeyman.
“The attempt to make the opposition look like a Chinese-run enemy of Malays in general is aimed at pressuring Malays — who wish for politics to be more reflective of their new realities — to stay in line…
“The game is about suppressing dissenting Malay voices, not about the DAP or anything else,” the deputy director of Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute told Malay Mail Online in an email yesterday.
Ooi then said the coming general election and its outcome will determine whether the Malay community will continue to succumb to old tactics or fight for more progressive politics and society.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Saturday declared DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang as the de facto head of Pakatan Harapan, by virtue of the latter’s party being the numerically strongest among the opposition.
New DAP member Datuk Zaid Ibrahim last week triggered fresh debate over who was the true leader of the opposition, when he unilaterally declared this to be former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is federal opposition leader, a formal position that puts her on par with the prime minister.
Dividing the opposition
Ibrahim Suffian, who heads independent pollster Merdeka Center, said Najib’s remarks were a continuation of the narrative put forth during Umno’s annual general assembly last year, when it sought to show that the federal opposition was dominated by DAP.
Rather than a bid to extend communal politics in an “extremely polarised” Malaysia, Ibrahim saw Umno’s actions as a “continued attempt to split the opposition”.
Umno is also seeking to strengthen its standing with the Malay electorate, which the party knows it needs to make up for its lack of support among non-Malays, he said.
“It (Umno’s efforts) acts as a wedge between Malay voters and Pakatan Harapan opposition, but may not be effective in driving a wedge between Malay voters and PAS.
“I think it’s also a move to prevent PAS from getting close to Pakatan Harapan so PAS doesn’t have an electoral pact with Pakatan Harapan,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
If Ibrahim’s reading of Umno’s motives is correct, then the Malay nationalist party has already succeeded in part.
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang yesterday declared that his party will not work with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) as long as the latter was allied to DAP and Amanah, adding that PAS was even reviewing ties with PKR over the same matter.
Analyst Oh Ei Sun said Umno’s efforts would also hurt the federal opposition’s dwindling support in rural areas, which he said covers a majority of constituencies in Malaysia.
Umno’s regular portrayal of DAP as against Malays and Islam has stuck despite the latter’s repeated denials, and has prevented it from making inroads into the rural constituencies that are the bastion of the Malay nationalist party.
The new efforts to show DAP as the puppetmaster of the opposition could now also damage the party’s allies, Oh said.
“These opposition parties have very little rural support to begin with, so it will essentially be their death knell in these constituencies,” the adjunct senior fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies said, referring to PKR, PPBM and Amanah.
“It is just the final nail in the coffin in terms of rural support for the opposition, as the opposition has been lacking in either religious or material appeal from the beginning. Their strong positions in the urban constituencies simply could not hand them the numerical strength in parliament,” he added.
This will also force the opposition, which is now more crowded with the entry of PPBM, to fight over a handful of constituencies, increasing the chances of overlaps that would be to BN’s advantage.
Lure of stability
Asri Salleh, a senior lecturer at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), said DAP will be hard pressed to deny the claim that it was the true power in the opposition, given the fact of its numbers as well as its leading role in the pact.
Asri also believed that the efforts of opposition parties to reach out to Malay voters would be hobbled by Umno’s portrayal of DAP’s dominance, attributing this mainly to the opposition’s divided and fractured state.
“Regardless whether Umno’s strategy is the right one or not, the fact that matters is that the effects can simply be amplified by folds due to the instability within the opposition,” he said.
Malaysians, like most voters, prefer stability and are unlikely to be convinced by the currently erratic nature of the federal opposition, he explained.
Although disapproving of the continuation of communal politics, he said it was a practice that has existed here since it was introduced by Malaysia’s colonial masters.
“As such, I foresee nothing radical will come out of this current ‘battle’ between BN and DAP (Pakatan),” he said.
He said this precluded any possibility that the Chinese will be discouraged from backing DAP for fear of Malay reprisals, but added that the community will vote for whomever it felt would best serve its interests, even BN.
– Malay Mail