Political analysts have downplayed potential harm from the recent controversy involving Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Zaid Ibrahim and the Selangor palace on Pakatan Harapan’s ability to pull Malay votes in the next general election (GE14).
Harapan leaders have repeatedly touted that Mahathir’s new party, Bersatu, will be able to break Umno’s stronghold on the decisive Malay vote, justifying the “Umno 2.0” party’s entry into Harapan.
However, Mahathir has in recent weeks found himself the recipient of pointed advice from Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah. Mahathir later returned state awards previously conferred to him by the Selangor palace.
“Loyalty to the king” is one of the five tenets in the Rukunegara, and the monarchy is largely seen as a symbol of Malay supremacy and power.
Nonetheless, associate professor of politics Faisal S Hazis believes that voters will see Mahathir’s tiff with the Selangor sultan as a personal battle, rather than as reflective of the entire opposition coalition.
“It is seen more as a clash between Mahathir and the royals.
“(Plus) in Selangor, Menteri Besar Azmin Ali has a good working relation with the sultan. This will help them (Harapan) to minimise the negative impacts,” said Faisal, who is with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Bread and butter issues
Notwithstanding the Malays’ deep-seated reverence for the royalty, this is not a significant factor when deciding on political leaders, contended Maszlee Malik, a political science assistant professor at International Islamic University Malaysia.
“When it comes to politics, they would rather look at who served them better,” Maszlee said.
Faisal agreed and said the Malays, like all other voters, were more concerned with bread-and-butter issues when making their decision in elections.
“Harapan’s fate will be determined by whether it can strike a formidable electoral pact, have an efficient party machinery and have persuasive alternative narratives (to BN’s).
“Ultimately, the people will be moved by issues that are close to their hearts… bread-and-butter issues such as the cost of living, employment and stagnant income are more important,” Faisal said.
Following the sultan’s criticism, Mahathir and Zaid, expectedly, courted the wrath of several Umno leaders.
Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Noh Omar (centre in photo) held a “Daulat Tuanku” rally in support of the Selangor ruler, urging police to bar both men from speaking in public and to investigate them for sedition.
Alongside the Umno annual general meeting, Sungai Besar Umno division chief Jamal Md Yunos torched and hammered cardboard cutouts of Zaid, criticising him for “insulting and acting in an insolent manner” towards the sultan.
Information from Internet at fingertips
Politics researcher Hisommuddin Bakar, of think-tank Ilham Centre, analysed that Umno believed it stood to win Malay support by aligning itself with the monarchy.
However, Hisommuddin contended that voters are able to see past Umno’s narrative, potentially causing stunts (such as Jamal’s sledgehammering) to backfire on the party.
“Voters now have information at their fingertips (from the Internet). They can always refer to the original quotes (by Mahathir and Zaid) that have come under attack.
“They can then compare the quotes with the attacks and ‘spin’ done by Umno. This can give incredibly negative impacts on BN and Umno,” he said.
This is amplified now, as the rakyat are also aware of how such narratives or stunts are unable to solve the everyday problems they faced, argued Hisommuddin.
“Voters are faced with everyday issues like the high cost of living, rising oil prices, limited job opportunities for graduates, the fall of the ringgit and other economic factors.
“Umno and BN might think all these work in their favour, but from another aspect, all this outrage will not be able to contain the voters’ anger,” he added.