PAKATAN Harapan is being pressured by both Malay and non-Malay groups, distracting the ruling coalition from dealing with bread-and-butter issues, such as cost of living, jobs and affordable housing, said analysts.
PH’s struggle to meet the conflicting demands from pressure groups has eroded support from the Malays, which it is trying to court, and non-Malays, who are its traditional supporters.
These demands include the khat issue and the status of India-born preacher Zakir Naik who has upset non-Muslim Malaysians.
Political analysts, however, said PH must be brave enough to rise above narrow communal interests to chart a broad-based, inclusive national narrative.
“Pakatan leaders need to focus on changes that go beyond partisanship and expand to get the support of the majority of all groups. Pakatan leaders and members need to accept this reality immediately,” pollster Ibrahim Suffian told The Malaysian Insight.
“If not, then its reforms will be stalled and our national narrative will only be about race and religion and we would lose time and energy without any long-lasting benefit,” said Ibrahim, the executive director of Merdeka Centre.
Pakatan has to seek a compromise and balance between the competing claims and expectations of Muslims and non-Muslims, he said.
Non-Muslims expect the coalition to meet their demands for greater social justice and equality, said Ibrahim, adding that some are still suspicious of the government.
“The reality is that the community has to reassess how far they are willing to compromise. Their political choices are limited. Besides Pakatan, the only other choice is Umno and PAS,” Ibrahim said.
For Malays, the controversies over khat and Zakir appear to have been politicised by those seeking to benefit from them.
“But it is the people who lose because the government’s attention is inordinately focused on these issues instead of more pressing problems, such as improving the economy and improving the public delivery system.”
To deal with the increased communal rhetoric, Ibrahim said PH must expand the coalition to reflect the country’s demographics.
Universiti Malaya lecturer Mohamad Taufik Yaakub said PH has so far failed to reach a consensus on how it wants to deal with racial and religious issues.
“It is the failure to craft this consensus that has led to the internal conflicts between the parties,” said Taufik.
On one hand, non-Malays are upset with PH for failing to deal with the Jawi issue in vernacular schools and Zakir.
Malays, meanwhile, feel that PH does not act in their interest, said Taufik.
“It reflects how PKR and DAP have failed to meet the expectations of non-Malays even though both received strong support from these communities.
“If the general election was held next week, Pakatan will have trouble getting the same level of support from them as it did in the 14th general election.”
Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturer Azizuddin Sani, however, said despite dominating news headlines, race and religious issues have very little impact on a political party’s support levels.
This is because the mainstream is filled with middle-class Malaysians whose sentiments influence the outcome of elections.
“Those who changed and support the government talk about racial issues but to them, economic issues are more dominant, such as cost of living, housing affordability, bread-and-butter issues.
“If Pakatan were to lose, they will lose based on these issues just like Barisan Nasional lost because of GST (goods and services tax),” s aid Azizuddin.
This goes for both Malays and non-Malays, he said.
“For non-Malays, Zakir and khat are side issues which are sensationalised. The economy is more dominant.”
For Malays, some of them may be side-tracked by Umno and PAS which play up race and religious issues, but the government can increase their support among this community by talking about their own Bumiputera agenda, said Azizuddin.
“There are Malays who buy into the fears created by Umno and PAS but Pakatan is the government and can show its Bumiputera agenda without upsetting the other communities.”
He added that harping too much on Malay and Islamic issues by any party would backfire as it will alienate Sabah and Sarawak natives.
Another UM academic, Prof Awang Azman Awang Pawi, meanwhile, said there’s a minority of non-Muslim leaders who don’t realise that Malaysian politics is driven by the needs of the majority.
“These communal leaders do not realise that just because Pakatan is in power, the government cannot grant them all their wishes because the coalition is limited by the federal constitution.
“When this happens, the communities are disappointed with PH but some of their leaders will continue to fight for the issue,” said Awang Azman.
“Malay rights and the status of Bahasa Melayu are in the constitution so they must adapt their demands to what is in the constitution otherwise they will be disappointed.”
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT