Tuesday 30 July 2019

Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (left) and Khairy Jamaluddin

ELECTIONS are generally decided by the middle ground — although admittedly without a strong base, one will not reach the middle.

My faith in the Malay middle ground is probably more pronounced than the faith most Malay politicians have in them.
With the influx of 7.9 million new voters, as a result of lowering the voting age to 18 years old and automatic registration, as well as the current marriage of convenience between Umno and Pas, “doomsayers” are predicting that Pakatan Harapan will lose the 15th General Election.

But then again, you know what they say about “doomsayers” — the world has yet to end, the sun is still shining brightly, and we still have faith in humanity.
Allow me to make a prediction: as long as Pakatan Harapan stays intact, the coalition will be a two-term government, at least. Or, to be more precise, as long as Pakatan remains a cohesive group, it will be the winning side in GE15.
If, however, Pakatan is to break up anytime now, that’s a different story.
Let us first examine what happened in GE14. I have always reminded friends and supporters of Pakatan Harapan that we must humbly accept the fact we did not win the 2018 election on our strength alone. It was former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who lost it for Barisan Nasional (BN).
GE14 was a vote against Najib and Rosmah across the states. The anger among the Malay middle ground against them was so intense that anyone near them was deemed to be guilty by association.
Pakatan Harapan benefited from the anti-Najib sentiment to win all the swing seats that mattered in the west coast of the peninsula. However, the side effect of this factor was that whatever Pas gained in the east coast came through the same anti-Najib dynamic.
Hundreds of thousands of west coast-based Malay voters returned to Kelantan and Terengganu to vote for the Islamist party.
I have openly called those in Umno who persuaded Pas’ top leaders to deviate from the original Pakatan formula in 2015 “fools”. Not very polite, I know. But thanks to these Umno leaders, BN lost GE14 due to the Najib factor.
They thought they were smart. Their primary objective was to protect Najib with a three-pronged strategy so that Najib didn’t have to resign under internal pressure.
FIRST, they had to get rid of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim so that there would be no alternative prime minister candidate to challenge Najib.
Anwar was imprisoned in February 2015.
SECOND, they lured Pas to leave Pakatan by convincing the Islamists to contest in three-cornered fights. They believed Pas could steal anti-BN Malay votes from Pakatan Harapan to ensure BN’s victory by default.
THIRD, they launched an all-out campaign of “Semua Salah DAP” (a strategy to blame it all on DAP) to spark racial sentiment against DAP for the woes of the country. They had glossed over Najib’s mismanagement of the government. They hoped no Malay voters would vote for Pakatan Harapan.
Yet Najib’s grand strategy didn’t work. Why? In GE14, Pakatan had its three-pronged tactic: the grand realignment of the three original Pakatan parties with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as PM candidate, and the use of the PKR symbol as the common logo.
Ultimately, the fundamental point is simple: the Malay middle ground is no fool. They saw through the corruption and economic malaise caused by Najib and they hated the pompous presence of his wife.
The consensus was that whoever associated with Najib shall be defeated.
But let’s take a breather for a moment. A year after GE14, there are still those who support Najib. His campaign of “Bossku” is popular among certain segments of the Malays. Why is it so?
Let’s not forget that BN still received 35 per cent of national votes in the last general election. They are still hardcore supporters who believe in Najib’s innocence.
However, Najib’s re-emergence only consolidated his own base but will most likely be counter-productive to winning the middle ground.
With Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib — both facing trials for corruption — back at the top leadership of Umno and BN, it will be an advantage to Pakatan Harapan.
However, it won’t be good for the nation because these two desperate leaders are known to resort to racial and religious “exclusionary” politics.
With Zahid and Najib, Umno has just ceded the middle ground to Pakatan Harapan.
If the opposition is led by slightly more moderate Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan and Khairy Jamaluddin, they can give Pakatan a run for the money in the coming GE.
At least there will be a genuine competition for policies to win the Malay middle ground.
What about the Pas-Umno alliance? Pas lost its chance to occupy the middle ground in the 2004 general election, and again in 2015 with the exodus of progressive leaders to form Parti Amanah Negara.
A Pas-Umno alliance that is formed on the basis of racial supremacy and exclusive religious politics will alienate not only voters in Sabah and Sarawak as well as the non-Malay voting population, but also the Malay middle ground voters.
The middle ground across ethnic lines want better jobs, better pay, better living standards and security. They also want a more efficient, caring and clean government that works for them, and not take them for a ride to benefit cronies.
The writer is deputy defence minister

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