A PURPORTED RM5 million offer for Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to leave his party Bersatu is a testament to how important this greenhorn has become despite only being in politics for a little more than two years.
Analysts told The Malaysian Insight that whoever was willing to offer RM5 million to Syed Saddiq to quit has indirectly proven that the 25-year-old was a big enough political threat.
Syed Saddiq leads Bersatu’s Youth wing or Armada and has been vocal in attracting millennials – who make up to 30% of potential voters – to the party.
It is estimated that 55% of Bersatu’s 100,000 members are Armada members under 35.
Syed Saddiq is also one the most recognisable and vocal millennial leaders in Bersatu and the opposition coalition of which it is a member – Pakatan Harapan.
He burst on to the political scene when former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched his Citizens’ Declaration. When Bersatu was launched a year ago, Syed Saddiq become its first youth chief.
Political analyst Dr Wong Chin Huat said the attempt to buy over Syed Saddiq is a sign of how important millennial voters are in the 14th general election, where multi-candidate contests are expected to be the norm in almost every seat.
“Syed Saddiq’s exit could also have taken away the appeal of Bersatu for younger voters and also Malay-Muslims who are the main focus of both Bersatu and Umno.
“To pay so much for someone just to quit Bersatu would mean that whoever is doing this is actually scared of Bersatu,” said Wong of the Penang Institute.
If Syed Saddiq did quit Bersatu, it would have damaged his party, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary last month, said Wong.
Bersatu is a Malay-based party in PH that is focused on winning over the rural Malay-Muslim vote. It is led by former Umno strongmen Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir, who is now the PH chairman, recently boasted that Johor, the birthplace and bastion of the party’s rival Umno is likely to fall in GE14 because of Bersatu’s increasing presence in the state.
However, Bersatu has seen an exodus of some of its founding members, such as Anina Saadudin and Kamarulazman Habibur Rahman, over the past few months over what they claimed are leadership issues.
“As more leaders leave Bersatu, its rivals can then claim to voters that Bersatu is an oxymoron, that it’s actually ‘berpecah’,” said Wong, referring to Bersatu’s Malay name which means unity.
“This would damage Bersatu’s image as a viable alternative for Malay-Muslims.”
Yet Umno would not gain from Syed Saddiq’s entry into the party as younger voters would have rejected him, said Wong.
“Unlike big senior leaders, Syed Saddiq would not have been able to pull his crowd into Umno, as they would have seen him as a sell-out.
“But for Umno to pay RM5 million for a quitter, that is a big price.”
Syed Saddiq said on Monday a politician and businessman offered him RM5 million and that the offer came from a senior aide to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The offer was for Syed Saddiq to leave Bersatu and pursue his studies at Oxford University on a RM400,000 scholarship.
The offer also included funds to start debate schools around the country, which he would lead.
He was to have held the press conference at the Seri Pan Pacific Hotel, next to the Umno headquarters in the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, where he would also have to attack Dr Mahathir, as part of the deal.
He held the press conference as scheduled, but turned the tables on those who made him the offer with his expose.
PH has pinned its hopes on leaders, such as Syed Saddiq, to bring out the millennial vote, which is estimated to comprise between 25% and 30% of voters in GE14.
PH leaders hope to reverse a trend among millennials which a recent survey showed were becoming apathetic and distrustful of politicians in general.
The Merdeka Center for Opinion research found that 70% of young people polled aged between 21 and 30 did not care for politics.
Of the 604 respondents, only between 46% and 64% were registered voters.
Analyst Hisomuddin Bakar said this cohort of voters will be critical in GE14 but that it was still unclear how they will vote.
“It is a worldwide trend with this age group. They are very anti-establishment but it is not clear who they will vote for. It’s difficult to read them,” said Hisomuddin of the Ilham Centre.
In the Malaysian context, Hisomuddin said, whichever coalition manages to tap into and attract this vote bank will have the winning advantage.
As of today, three political coalitions are expected to vie for 222 parliamentary seats and more than 500 state seats in GE14.
They are the Barisan Nasional, of which Umno is a member, PH and Gagasan Sejahtera Rakyat led by Islamist party PAS.