PAKATAN Harapan got a taste of how difficult it is going to be to snare the rural Malay vote during two recent events in Penang.
Just before Hari Raya, DAP leaders went kampung to kampung in the Malay areas in Penang to hand out donations for the celebration. PAS members they met declined these offers.
And then after Hari Raya, when PH staged its first ceramah on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), tailored towards rural Malays in Penaga, there were hardly any PAS supporter.
Getting those who have voted for PAS to switch sides to PH is one of the keys for the coalition to win enough parliamentary seats to take over Putrajaya.
Political analysts have always argued that when two opposition parties go up against the ruling Barisan Nasional, their votes get split and BN ends up winning.
Since PAS has announced it will contest against PH and BN, the odds are against PH unless it can steal voters away from both PAS and BN.
One reason this is challenging is because Umno and PAS have deep history among the Malays stretching back several decades.
Independent pollster Ibrahim Suffian said Malaysians tend to vote along communal lines at every election for parties they perceive as taking care of their interests.
For Malays, especially rural ones, it has always been either Umno or PAS, said Ibrahim, executive director of the Merdeka Center.
Among Penang Malays this is doubly hard. Mohamad Sabu, a former-PAS-turned-PH senior leader and Penangnite, once said the community is different than those in other states.
“They are extra sensitive to fears of their rights being taken away because they are a minority in Penang. But not a small minority,” said Mohamad, who is now president of Amanah, a PH component party.
So, getting Penang Malays to trust a PH component party allied with the Chinese-majority DAP is almost impossible.
PH is made up of multiracial DAP and PKR, as well as Malay-majority Amanah and Bersatu. PAS is a former ally of DAP and PKR but broke off ties in 2015.
Even PAS, which was allied to PKR and DAP in the 2013 general election had a tough time convincing Penang’s Malays. It won one out of the six seats it contested, all of them Malay-majority constituencies.
When comparing PH’s ability to win rural Malays as compared with PAS, the latter’s Penang chief Muhammad Fauzi Yusoff offered a stark example.
The 1MDB Penaga ceramah on July 6 attracted only a handful of PAS supporters. Two days later, thousands showed up at Penang PAS’ open house in Bertam, also in Kepala Batas.
“The support we are getting in Penang far exceeds our expectations,” said Fauzi, responding to claims that the party is losing support after breaking up with DAP and PKR.
The PAS supporters who attended the 1MDB ceramah did so secretly and didn’t even enter the community hall where it was held, said one of the event’s organisers Ahmad Fahmi Abu Bakar.
“I recognised some of them as PAS supporters as I was also in the party. They were sitting on the curb outside the hall. But at least they came to be informed about 1MDB,” said Ahmad Fahmi, now an Amanah leader from neighbouring Tasik Gelugor.
Ahmad Fahmi admits that PAS is still a formidable force in Penang but said the Islamist party’s perceived friendliness towards traditional nemesis Umno is troubling some of its supporters and members.
“They are uncomfortable with PAS’ stand on 1MBD and we hope that we can get a silent vote from them. They won’t leave PAS because of family and village ties. But hopefully they will vote for us.”
Penang DAP leader Zairil Khir Johari estimates that one in five PAS supporter is a hardcore member who will never vote for any other party.
But the remaining four can be convinced to change their minds, said Zairil, who is also Bukit Bendera MP, and in charge of the Malay 1MDB roadshow for Penang.
And to do that, the roadshow explains that certain PAS leaders are shielding the Najib administration from prosecution in the 1MDB saga, said Zairil.
“We believe that PAS supporters want a regime change, but certain PAS leaders are not supporting that aim. So, we hope to gain their support by showing that PH’s aims and their aims are the same.”