AND then there were five.
Now that Gerakan has joined the Perikatan Nasional coalition, it has five members: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PAS, Sabah STAR and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).
On Thursday, in a ceremony with Gerakan president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau, Perikatan chairman and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin formally accept the party as a coalition member.
The last poll the party contested was the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor in November 2019, where it stood as a third force. It received 1,707 votes while Bersatu/Pakatan Harapan garnered 10,380 votes and MCA/Barisan Nasional won by a landslide of 25,466 votes.
In GE14 in 2018, Gerakan did not win any seats. It subsequently abandoned Barisan Nasional, which had lost federal power to Pakatan. Currently, it has a state seat, gained when Buntong assemblyman A. Sivasubramaniam of DAP joined Gerakan last year.
On why Gerakan joined the Perikatan coalition, James Chin, director of the Asia Institute, University of Tasmania, Australia, believes it was for political survival.
“They need to join Perikatan as they lost every seat they contested in GE14. They later tried to stand on their own as the middle ground between two big blocs, Pakatan and BN/Perikatan, but they found that they could not do it, ” he said.
“They tried to stand on their own feet but it didn’t work. This means that the product they are trying to sell – which is multiracial politics – has no takers.”
What political value does Gerakan bring to the Perikatan?
Chin said the best thing for the party is to be given some seats in GE15 where there is a big block of Malay voters to support it. He doesn’t think the Chinese will go back to them anytime soon – at least not in the next General Election.
A Gerakan insider who did not want to be identified believed that it is unlikely that his party would win an MP seat in GE15. The only parliamentary seat the party won in GE13 was Simpang Renggam, a Malay majority seat in Johor. In GE14, Gerakan lost that seat to Bersatu. Subsequently, Bersatu’s Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik was kicked out of the party and is now an independent.
“Bersatu will not give up the seat to Gerakan. And other (parliamentary) seats which we have to contest will be hardcore DAP and PKR seats, ” he said.
“If you look at the comments about Gerakan joining Perikatan in the Facebook pages of Chinese newspapers, 99% are negative. People think the party did not make a good strategic decision.”
According to a political analyst who did not want to be identified, based on the Tanjung Piai by-election results, Gerakan has sunk to the bottom.
“In terms of electoral support, they are not there anymore. This is not the old Gerakan of Keng Yaik and Tsu Koon, ” he said, referring to former Gerakan presidents, the late Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik and Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon.
“This is the new Gerakan under Dominic Lau. He has neglected the Gerakan grassroots. The party’s old guard and the diehard supporters are not happy with him as he is seen as dithering here and there –Gerakan tried to join Pakatan when the coalition was in government, ” he said.
The Gerakan insider contended that many state-level leaders in the party preferred to work with Barisan. However, Barisan didn’t accept Gerakan back into the coalition.
“Nonetheless, I don’t think there is widespread support in the party for the decision to join the Perikatan coalition, ” he said.
The Gerakan insider noted that many party grassroots members were uncomfortable working with PAS because Gerakan has consistently opposed its Islamic state agenda. He reminded me that Gerakan was the only party that took PAS to court over Kelantan’s hudud law in 2015.
“Many, especially the veterans, in the party are uncomfortable about working with PAS. There will be some blowback internally, ” he said, adding “but probably nothing much will happen as that is how Gerakan is.” Chin also can’t fathom how Gerakan and PAS can work together in the Perikatan coalition.
“If you look at recent history, Gerakan has been extremely critical of PAS’s Islamic policies. I don’t know how they are going to work together. But then again, the reality is PAS can ignore them as it has 18 MP seats and Gerakan has none, ” he said.
According to the party insider, the plus point Gerakan brings to Perikatan is that the coalition now can say that it is not just a Malay-majority coalition as it has a national multiracial party as a member. Two Malay parties – Bersatu and PAS – are seen as dominating the Perikatan coalition as Sabah STAR and SAPP are Sabah-based parties, he explained.
The Gerakan insider pointed out that Perikatan now has a national multiracial party that non-Malay leaders – especially those aligned with former PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali (who is now with Bersatu) – could join.
“Politicians like Tian Chua who is aligned with Azmin can leave PKR and join Gerakan, ” he said.
The political analyst also believes this, saying that Malay, Chinese and Indian PKR leaders aligned with Azmin but who don’t want to join him in Bersatu could join Gerakan.
“But can the Gerakan grassroots accept these potential newcomers? Will the old guard and warlords in the party campaign for the newcomers in GE15?” he said.
The political analyst believes that the Perikatan coalition could use Gerakan as a bargaining chip in seat negotiations in Chinese-majority constituencies: “It adds a new element in the seat negotiation for Chinese-majority seats between Perikatan and Barisan, ” he said.
(Barisan currently consists of Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah or PBRS.)
In the larger scheme of things, the Gerakan insider believes that Perikatan’s chairman was sending a message to Barisan that it can’t wait for it forever to form an electoral alliance for GE15.
Will Gerakan be an ace or a joker up Perikatan’s sleeve for GE15?