KUALA LUMPUR— It is not easy when your former Umno colleagues are now your rivals, and are attacking the very achievements that they helped build during their time with Barisan Nasional.
Fresh from celebrating its one-year anniversary, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PBBM) have been doing just that, and are trying their best to penetrate the rural Malay vote base in Johor through small-scale ceramahs featuring top leaders like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Their message to Malay voters in the Umno stronghold is simple: make the switch and vote for PPBM and by extension Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the 14th general election to ensure better governance and a corruption-free administration.
But for Johor Umno information chief Datuk Samsol Bari Jamali, such is the reality of politics.
While he believes that majority of Johor folk will not buy into PPBM and PH’s “cheap propaganda”, there is another challenge at hand for the ruling Malay party, and that is to move beyond nostalgia and attachment to ex-Umno leaders who have betrayed the party.
“I cannot say that leaders like Tan Sri Muhyiddin do not wield any influence (among Umno voters and supporters), there is still an influence there,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“But is it enough to make loyal Umno members leave the party and join PPBM? Yes, there are PPBM members who were [from] Umno, but they are not the majority in Johor. This is what we have to work (to fight) against,” the Johor Barisan Nasional Backbencher’s Club chairman explained.
The perfect ‘Malay tsunami’
PPBM’s aim in the 14th general election is to engineer a “Malay tsunami” for PH by contesting in traditional Umno seats and presumably winning them, while other component parties DAP, Amanah and PKR secure voters for the Chinese and mixed-seats.
And according to Johor PPBM secretary Datuk Osman Sapian, the first wave of such a “Malay tsunami” is already taking place, as evidenced by the PPBM branches that have been established in under a year and their recruits.
“We in PPBM consider ourselves to be the root of Pakatan Harapan in Johor. We have 26 branches and 50,000 members in Johor alone. So if we look at this, we are the main opposition party leading the charge here,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Osman claimed that things are changing fast in the state, with PPBM managing to conduct ceramahs and open up branches in Felda constituencies and villages, a scenario previously unheard of due to Umno’s support among Malays.
“Last time, the kampung folk were all Umno fanatics. But now, with increased fuel prices and GST people are feeling the pinch, they want alternatives. We tell them we are experienced, we were part of Umno before, we have had a hand in ruling and running the government,” he said.
PPBM’s desire to secure a foothold in Johor is crucial not just to put a dent in Umno’s armour, but also to build a base upon which it can solidify its position, similar to DAP in Penang and PKR in Selangor.
Oh Ei Sun, adjunct senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies believes that both PPBM and Amanah are attempting to do just that, but will struggle to pull it off as both parties “have little materialistic appeal” and can never match Islamist rival PAS on the religious front.
“It would appear that for PH to even remotely contemplate winning a simple majority in Johor, Bersatu (PBBM) and Amanah would have to consolidate the Malay votes, while primarily DAP will have to take care of the non-Malay votes, with PKR playing a largely assistant role.
“Bersatu (PBBM) with Muhyiddin will have to counter the Umno juggernaut while Amanah will have to uproot the PAS rural support base, both of which are daunting tasks. So it does take the whole PH to effectively play their differentiated roles without undue internal catfights, such as over seat allocations,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Oh was sceptical of a “Malay tsunami” taking place in Johor, saying a more likely scenario for GE14 would be the usual urban-rural divide, with rural voters voting for BN because of promises of funding and development allocations.
Winning seats in Johor
The opposition won 18 out of 56 state seats in Johor in Election 2013, leaving BN with 38 seats, exactly two-thirds of the state legislative assembly. The collaboration between DAP, PAS and PKR as Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Election 2013 then had allowed the opposition to triple its seat tally from just six seats won in the 2008 general election.
But after PAS left the pact, along with PPBM and Amanah’s formation, PH now has 16 seats while BN has 37. PAS has three seats.
DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong has maintained that BN could lose power in Johor with a mere 10 per cent vote swing, and that a shift in voter sentiment could see the ruling pact cede up to 14 state seats and 11 parliamentary seats to the opposition.
“A 10-15 per cent swing among Malays, and if non-Malay votes remain solid, would see Umno losing power in Johor and hopefully contributing to the fall of the Umno federal government,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Liew said that a PH win in Johor will result in both PPBM and Amanah building a strong base there.
He dismissed questions about which PH party would lead Johor, saying that the current state leadership appointments made the matter quite clear.
“Muhyiddin Yassin is leading PH Johor. I think that is clear and obvious. The rest of the question about leadership doesn’t arise,” the Kluang MP said.
Amanah deputy president and Johor PH election director Salahuddin Ayub said that his party is confident of maintaining its sole state seat (Parit Yaani) and seizing PAS’s three seats (Sungai Abong, Maharani and Puteri Wangsa) in the election.
“We can maintain the seats we won the in the last GE and PAS’ seats as these seats are comprised of more than 40 per cent Chinese voters. We have Jorak (PPBM seat) in hand, now we just need to maintain the seats Pakatan won the last time and we can win. We are not plucking facts,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Salahuddin said that while PPBM can draw in the more hardcore Umno Malay voters, Amanah will be responsible for roping in “moderate Malays”, Chinese voters and to fill the vacuum left by PAS when they left Pakatan.
“PPBM’s ability to draw Umno Malay votes is important because we failed to win in places like Nusajaya the last time, five to seven per cent short of Malay voters even with the ‘Chinese tsunami’ in the last general election,” he said.
Johor PKR and PAS leaders declined comment when contacted.