SYED Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s youth party has managed to capture the imagination of many people since the day the idea was floated.
It probably had something to do with the former minister’s star power, but the undeniable fact is that many Malaysians are tired of the same old politics that they see around them and are thirsting for something different.
Syed Saddiq finally moved to register Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) and the party does tick the boxes of where Malaysia’s politics should be headed.
It will be youth-led, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, and he wants to reach out to middle Malaysia.
Syed Saddiq’s party has also stirred more interest than Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, and hats off to the Muar MP for going his own way although he is often bullied on social media as “cucu Mahathir (Mahathir’s grandson)”.
He also has good people skills because he has managed to stay on good terms with Dr Mahathir and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
It will be a crowded field in the next general election although it will not be as packed as what is happening in Sabah.
The Sabah state election is providing some real-time insight into what might happen on a larger scale in the 15th General Election (GE15), namely, a crowded field of organised coalitions as well as smaller parties and individuals who believe it is their right or even duty to be there.
For instance, a civil society group yearning for a genuinely Malaysian nation is rallying behind the likes of former MP Tawfik Ismail with a view to contesting the general election.
These groups and parties may not advance very far but they could be the alternative choice and voice for voters who have grown disenchanted with the same old menu.
They will be part of a third force that could gather momentum if the established political parties do not change with the times.
“Looking ahead, I have only one word for the situation – fluid. It’s a unique time in Malaysian politics,” said Perak PKR chief Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak.
Events of the past year have shown that political alliances can break apart overnight or, as Farhash put it, “You find out that friends are actually enemies”.
At the same time, sworn enemies can also become friends, as in the case of PAS and Umno.
“And each time someone is upset because he cannot be the leader, he goes off to form a new party to lead,” said Farhash.
Small parties, said Sarawak-based political scientist Dr Jeniri Amir, want to be kingmakers because they know that even one seat can mean a lot.
According to political analyst Dr Azmi Omar, the run-up to the Sabah polls has signalled that the issue of seats will be the No 1 problem for Umno and Bersatu in the general election.
Dr Azmi, who is from Terengganu, said the Umno-Bersatu rivalry on the ground is intense.
“Upstairs, the leaders kiss and hold hands but downstairs, the members hate each other. They do not trust each other after clashing for so many years,” said Dr Azmi.
In Terengganu, the animosity boiled over at the recent state assembly sitting when Datuk Seri Ahmad Said, the former Mentri Besar and now state opposition leader, slammed the PAS state government over GLC (government-linked company) appointments.
He claimed that an individual close to PAS was appointed to the board of about a dozen GLCs while another was on the board of six GLCs.
Ahmad also declared that Muafakat Nasional does not exist in the state and Umno will contest all of the eight parliament and 32 state seats in Terengganu
It was as good as a declaration of war.
The scenario is not far different in Johor where Umno and Bersatu are stuck in a loveless marriage.
Johoreans quarrel in a more civil manner but Umno leaders like former Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed has made it crystal clear that Umno will not yield any of its traditional seats to Bersatu.
Pakatan Harapan has not been spared the “troubled marriage” syndrome either.
Ties between PKR and DAP are at an all-time low. The leaders are still civil to each other but there is much badmouthing among their members on the ground.
The episode over who should be Pakatan’s prime minister candidate soured their relationship but that has been overtaken by new concerns.
DAP’s standing among the Malays is at rock bottom. The party is now facing a dilemma that is oddly similar to that faced by Umno – one of being despised by the Chinese, while the other is hated among the Malays.
PKR leaders are worried that a coalition with DAP is going to cost them the Malay vote. They can see how Muhyiddin’s ratings among Malays shot up after disassociating from DAP.
The concern is that any party associated with DAP will lose out on Malay support.
Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wants an intact coalition but conversations with PKR grassroots leaders reveal that there is mounting pressure for the party to go it alone in the general election.
They are not talking divorce yet, but anything is possible in these unique times.
There have been lots of assumptions that the Malay vote will go one way and the non-Malay vote another, but the road ahead could as tough to predict as the last general election.
The next general election will see rivalry more extreme than ever before and there will be new parties and groups in the fray. There will be political realignments and perhaps even broken alliances.
“We can no longer look through the old lenses in trying to understand what lies ahead,” said Rita Sim of the Cense think tank.
But the outcome of the Sabah election could provide the rest of the country an immediate glimpse of just how much the politics has changed … or not changed.