YOUNG men in red shirts busied themselves under a canopy, putting the finishing touches and red-coloured flags for an event in Muar today.

Near the outdoor stage, older men sat around a table under the tents and listened attentively to the chief organiser as he ran through his a checklist.

It looked like a prelude to an Umno gathering, with red flags lining the road leading to the Queen’s town.

But the darker red of the flags was Bersatu’s, and not Umno’s Sang Saka Bangsa.

Lying just 15 minutes away from the royal town of Muar in Johor, Bersatu will celebrate its first anniversary today.

Since its founding on September 8 last year, Bersatu, in spirit, looks poised to challenge Umno.

Though chairman of the celebration’s organising committee, Mukhriz Mahathir, only smiled when asked if Bersatu was holding its anniversary in Johor as a challenge to Umno, it is hard not to draw that conclusion.

“We are holding it here because it’s convenient for members from nearby states to attend the anniversary. Furthermore, it’s our president’s home state and where we are strongest,” he told a press conference in Muar.

The other states Bersatu was strong were Kedah and Selangor, he added.

Mukhriz said Bersatu was expecting 10,000 to attend today’s anniversary in Muar.

According to party president Muhyiddin Yassin, Bersatu had set up more than 150 divisions in Peninsular Malaysia.

“This means that we have covered almost the whole of Peninsular Malaysia in one year. And it’s good sign for us,” Muhyiddin told The Malaysian Insight.

Muhyiddin said the reason why Bersatu had not formed divisions in all of the 165 parliamentary constituencies in Peninsular Malaysia was because a minimum number of members was needed to form a division.

“But we believe that within the next month or so, the whole of Peninsular Malaysia will be covered and that will also mean every state will have its own liaison committee.”

Adding value to the opposition

But the question remains, how can Bersatu add value to Pakatan Harapan, which has two Malay-based parties – PKR and Amanah?

“From a membership perspective, we have attracted a large number of youth. This is a good sign, as Bersatu is not just made up of former Umno members but new recruits who have never joined any party,” said Muhyiddin.

According to deputy president Mukhriz, the party had officially registered more than 100,000 members, with youth representing 57% of the membership.

“The number of applications we have received but not yet registered is almost double that,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Muhyiddin, who was sacked as deputy prime minister in 2015, said unlike the other parties, Bersatu also brings a wealth of experience from former federal ministers to PH.

“The experience we have in formulating national policies gives confidence to the public in the ability of PH to manage this country if it does take over. Building this confidence is paramount for support,” he added.

Different from Umno

Mukhriz, who helped Barisan Nasional retake Kedah from Pakatan Rakyat in 2013, said he was encouraged by the quality of people who have joined Bersatu.

“Coming from Umno, this is very different. In the past, we would have to pay people to help out or attend party functions.

“But the new members we are getting are not just registered members. They are volunteers. We don’t pay them anything to attend party functions or election machinery training,” said Mukhriz.

“They don’t ask for petrol money or allowances. This is something new to us,” said the former Umno supreme council member.

The party, nevertheless, had its fair share of problems, said Muhyiddin.

“Some of the people who join us have no basic experience in politics, or in leading the divisions. So, they have member issues and administration problems. This is something I have accepted.

“It is a matter of time before it stabilises. Because it is only a year, I don’t want to be expecting too much. Even then, I think we have achieved great success in terms of setting up operations nationwide.”

The royal town of Muar will be painted red today, but it’s a new red adorned with the national flower and not a green keris.