Urban Malay mood in state of flux

Corruption, race and religion may take second place to more pressing issues like costs of living and the economy in the state elections.

THE Prime Minister’s team is still on cloud nine about his triumphant state visit to China – the grand welcome, the high-optics handshake with President Xi Jinping and the prospect of RM170bil in investments.

It was a much needed follow-up to the troubled Saudi Arabia episode and has injected optimism in the business sector.

It has also locked up the Chinese base even more tightly for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government.

But everyone knows he is worried about the Malay vote because only 11% of Malays voted for Pakatan Harapan in the general election.

The Prime Minister is evidently taking a sweet-and-bitter approach where the Malay base is concerned.

The sweet part includes cash payouts for needy households, civil servants and pensioners.

But it is the bitter portion that has people looking at Anwar with new eyes. Beneath that easy-going charm and charisma is a man who is doing what it takes to hold on to power.

Perikatan Nasional leaders are starting to realise that Anwar is no pushover. He knows his powers of incumbency and how to use it.

The latest blow came a few days ago when the son of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin was charged with violating the government’s cooking oil subsidy.

Apart from puncturing holes in the corruption narrative of Bersatu leaders, it was a stark warning that the crackdown has extended to family members.

PAS leaders have also been unusually quiet, there are no more cries of “kezaliman” or tyranny against Anwar, and it is not solely because this is the fasting month.

PAS sources said the Wang Ehsan, special payments to Kelantan and Terengganu in lieu of oil royalties, were due by last month but have yet to be paid, hence the moratorium on attacks.

Meanwhile, Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor is like a man with a target on his back.

He claimed to have been banned from federal-level meetings while a buka puasa event hosted by him had to be relocated because he could not get a permit for the venue.

Putrajaya is tightening the screws on Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. It is a warning of what is in store for the PAS-controlled states if the green wave continues.

“They are making it difficult for us but our experience in Kelantan is that the more they press, the more the people will stand with us,” said Kelantan deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah.

The rivalry has also become quite personal with the top leaders of Perikatan absenting themselves in Parliament when Anwar is there to answer questions.

Their absence is seen as a form of protest, of refusing to be part of what Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu likens to a “staged performance” where questions have to be submitted and selected to be answered.

“They don’t want to be part of the political show,” said Ahmad Faizal.

There is no denying that Perikatan is under pressure. Their leaders are distracted by the court charges, their funds have been frozen and there will be no free spending as in the general election.

The corruption-related charges will have the greatest impact among Malay fence-sitters who have no loyalty to any particular party.

“Our surveys indicated that the green wave will not be that intense. It will also vary from state to state.

“What matters to voters in a general election is different from what will move them in a state election. My takeaway is that bread and butter issues will be topmost in the minds of voters,” Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy.

The opinion out there is that Perikatan may not get the same solid block of Malay support as in the general election.

“The Malays, especially the urban ones, are rather capricious and emotive at the moment. There is some degree of indecisiveness, some of them are waiting to see more from Anwar, to see him deliver on the economic front,” said political commentator Ivanpal S. Grewal.

But a shift in Malay sentiments from Perikatan does not mean that it will shift to Pakatan or Umno.

“The Malay mood towards Umno has not changed from November till now. The purge of Umno leaders like Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has alienated urban Malays who relate to them,” said Ivanpal.

Everything that happened in Umno the last few months has strengthened its president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi but has not endeared the party to Malays outside of Umno.

Wan Hakim Wan Mokhtar, a former Umno assemblyman from Terengganu, said the political chatgroups he is part of are no longer on fire like previously.

“It’s like they have given up, surrendered, lost hope. Or is it because they think that their opinions do not matter anymore?” said Wan Hakim.

Thinking Malays cannot be blamed for feeling confused about the state of politics when parties and personalities who were throwing mud at each other suddenly become partners.

Principles have been compromised in the name of power and it makes people question what they are voting for.

“Many of us voted for something but got something else. Now, my party is asking us to support a coalition we had been fighting for so many years,” said Wan Hakim.

Umno is under great pressure to deliver the Malay vote for the unity government and Wan Hakim is not sure if the Umno base will come along, stay at home or vote for the other side.