EXTRAORDINARY changes in the Malaysian political landscape in the past two years, not least of which has been Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s move to the opposition to do battle with Umno, point to a “Malay tsunami” that could unseat the Barisan Nasional (BN) government in the next election, say analysts.
The term “Malay tsunami” was coined in 2015 by DAP lawmaker Liew Chin Tong and refers to an uprising of Malay voters against Umno and BN, an event that analysts agree has become more likely wth the longest-serving former prime minister’s defection from Umno.
Penang Institute executive director Ooi Kee Beng said Dr Mahathir’s alliance with the opposition coalition this year has laid the foundation for for a shift in the Malay vote.
“Dr Mahathir joining the opposition coalition will bring about a small ‘Dr Mahathir tsunami’. He has created a new party in the name of ‘pribumi’ – this is an important factor, ” Ooi told The Malaysian Insight.
In September last year, Dr Mahathir formed the Malay-only Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) along with former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Eariler this year, Bersatu joined Pakatan Harapan with Dr Mahathir chairing the opposition pact.
“PKR is also a Malay-majority party, but despite the party positioning itself as such, it is only representative of a new generation of middle class city-dwellers. A lot of Malays are not there yet. PKR cannot avoid talk of race-based issues, that was Pakatan Rakyat’s limitation,” said Ooi.
“But Dr Mahathir has chosen a path not too divergent from Umno’s, and this attracts Malays who are interested in Anwar Ibrahim’s talk of reformation but are unable to let go of their racial dignity and sentiments.
“Bersatu allows them the opportunity to participate in a Malay reformation that is not as radical as the Reformasi. Dr Mahathir is very smart.”
Liew said the signs were pointing to a Malay tsunami, with 2015 being the year the waters started to churn.
It was in 2015 that the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal broke, in which Prime Minister Najib Razak and several other individuals were implicated in the siphoning of billions of dollars from the state investor.
It was also in 2015, in October that independent pollster Merdeka Center published the results of a survey showing that support for Najib in the Malay community had dropped to an all-time low of 31%.
Liew believes that as the reputation of Najib hit rock bottom, the Malay community lost a leader that they had respected and looked up to, leaving a leadership vaccum.
“We don’t know today if a tsunami will happen, but all the elements for it are there.”
During the same year, PAS and Umno were also shaken up by political earthquakes of their own. Liberal party leaders of the Islamist party left with thousands of members to form Amanah, while a cabinet reshuffle saw the shocking removal of Muhyiddin.
Liew sad the country had never seen the country’s two strongest Malay parties rocked by crises of such magnitude.
On the economic front, the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), the weakening of the ringgit, and inflation have created a maelstrom of discontent among the Malay community directed at the governing party.
“Who dares to say that there aren’t sentiments of hostility within the Malay community? Just take a Grab or Uber and you’ll feel it. Malays now are just as the Chinese during pre-308, unsettled, unsatisfied, anxious… (but) in private.”
Liew was referring to the March 2008 elections, when the opposition denied the BN a two-thirds majority in parliament and won an unprecedented five states.
“We’ll admit that in the end everyone might take a step back, and the Malay tsunami might ward off. But who dares comment that a Malay tsunami is not possible?”
Inspite of all the outward bravado, BN leaders are also paying attention to Dr Mahathir’s venture into the Malay heartlands, said ex-MCA leader Dr Chua Soi Lek.
Dr Chua said the Malay tsunami is most likely to happen in Kedah due to the “Dr Mahathir factor”.
“He was prime minister for 22 years, that is a very long time.
“It’s the same as me being Batu Pahat’s branch president for 28 years, I am still influential until today. You have to understand, people are of emotional attachments.
“Dr Mahathir has definitely contributed to the Malay society, there is no doubt in that. When he was prime minister, the people that benefited the most were those from Kedah,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
However, Dr Chua said he believed that the Malay uprising against Umno was unlikely to have nationwide reach.
“Let’s not forget, no matter your preference, it is undeniable that no party has ever taken care of the Malays as much as Umno did.
“Do you know, it is precisely Umno’s over-protectiveness of the Malays that has made the Chinese unhappy with the government,” said Dr Chua.
Ilham Centre executive director Hisommuddin Bakar and analyst Lim Hong Siang, both political observers, especially of the Malay community, share cautious views about the possibility of the Malay tsunami.
Hisommudin said the Malay tsunami theory wasused to encourage the Malay community to stand up against Umno, but the fact remained that the Malay political culture itself supported a familiar party and icon.
“Considerations in a political context is very complex. You might hate corrupted leaders and a failing system, but you might consider other things too, such as civil servants worrying about their secured jobs if the government is thrown off,” said Hisommuddin.
“In addition, Umno is threatening the Malays saying that in a state of Malay division, the non-Malays will become kings and steer the fate of the country.”
Lim said that now that Malay politics is divided into five parties – Umno, PAS, PKR, Amanah, and Bersatu – the Malays are more fearful than ever.
“The governing political power might have its downside, but considering the anxiety and fear for the future, their (Malays) votes might not be as direct.”
“Why did the opposition achieve in Terengganu in 505? Because although political power was passed from one hand to the other, it was still in the hands of Malays, they are assured!
“But in the case of the federal government and other states, they worry that a change will lead to Chinese power, and a disadvantaged stance for the Malays,” said Lim.
While the opposition continues to harbor hopes that a combination of the Dr Mahathir influence and growing disgruntlement from lower-income Malays will overcome traditional Malay fears of switching political allegiance, analysts are in agreement that a Malay tsunami alone will not be enough to bring down the ruling government.
Instead, it is a national tsunami that the opposition must hope and aim for.