KUALA LUMPUR – While pundits concur with Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli’s view that the majority of Malay voters remain distrustful of the Opposition, they say it is really because of the bloc’s equivocal position on Malay rights.
Analysts polled by Malay Mail Online said Malay votes will remain firmly with Umno because the ruling party’s pro-Malay politics provides the community with security even if its track record is marred by allegations of corruption.
Last Tuesday, Rafizi told a roundtable discussion held by the federal Opposition bloc, Pakatan Harapan, that the Malay community agrees with the issues regularly raised by opposition parties but do not give their support as they are unconvinced that there is a credible alternative to the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
The Pandan MP also added that the “opportunistic” and “condescending” tendencies of some of the pact’s leaders were alienating voters who are otherwise sympathetic to the Opposition’s cause.
“I think [Rafizi’s] statements are true but of lower priority in a typical Malay socio-political mind,” Oh Ei Sun, adjunct senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Malay Mail Online.
“What a significant number of Malays are most concerned about is, alas, whether the Opposition — if they do come to federal power — would uphold Malay special rights and privileges,” he added.
Umno’s persistent attack against the DAP as a Chinese-dominated party out to subvert Malay political rule has also succeeded in keeping the community suspicious of the Opposition bloc despite it having proved its ability to lead in Selangor and Penang, and rolling out pro-people policies.
“They keep harping on DAP being really in charge of the Opposition to stoke the bogeyman fear among a significant number of especially rural Malays,” Oh said.
Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, a political analyst with Universiti Malaya, feels that a public relations campaign is not likely to contribute to any significant shift in voting patterns among the Malays, who until the recent elections, remain equally divided in terms of political support.
“It remains to be seen if there can be a significant swing in Malay support and as far as the rural Malays are concerned, the majority of their votes remain entrenched with Umno,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Despite promises to reverse numerous unpopular government policies, and consistent harping on the financial controversies engulfing the BN administration, the Opposition failed to loosen Umno’s grip on rural Malays in all 13 general elections.
In fact Malay support for Umno strengthened in the most recent national polls, with the party increasing its seat tally from 79 in the 2008 Election to 88 seats in 2013.
And just last year, the party proved critics wrong when it won the Hulu Selangor and Kuala Kangsar by-elections with an increased majority amid talks of purported Malay voter backlash over the government rolling out the Goods and Services Tax and other financial scandals.
Umno’s internal squabbling that resulted in the resignation of its former president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the sacking of its deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin also barely affected the party. Both of them have since formed a new Malay party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Mohamad said while Dr Mahathir’s departure may have rattled the party in the early stage, the sustained media campaign against the former prime minister’s past scandals appeared to have worked in preventing a major split within Umno, and ultimately sustained support.
“In the initial stage it may have had an impact. But the consistent attacks on things like him being notorious for his U-turn on key issues,” Mohamad said.
Umno leaders alleged Dr Mahathir’s ongoing attack against the government is driven by personal interests as seen by his tendency to reverse his position on several issues that he had once been critical of. This includes his new alliance with DAP.
The former prime minister had repeatedly accused the party of Chinese chauvinism when he was in Umno, but has since changed his position now that he has joined the Opposition.
– Malay Mail