Saifuddin Abdullah just opposition’s flavour of the month, analysts say

File picture shows former Umno Supreme Council member, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaking during a press conference at PKR’s headquarters in Kota Damansara, October 15, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
File picture shows former Umno Supreme Council member, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaking during a press conference at PKR’s headquarters in Kota Damansara, October 15, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah’s crossover from Umno for PKR would not create much of a ripple in the country’s political landscape, analysts observed, although they agreed that the move could help bolster the opposition party’s middle ground support.

But any increase in the opposition’s support base will be nominal, one analyst said, as despite having carved a name for himself as one of Umno’s more progressive leaders, Saifuddin was no Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“I think Saifuddin, his idea of being moderate is suitable for PKR. All this while his views in Umno were also being rejected he’s not comfortable in Umno even from the very beginning when he was a deputy minister.

“But he’s a moderate-ideas figure, not a leader with huge grassroots supporters that is strong. He’s not very public like Anwar in Permatang Pauh.

“I don’t think he can swing a lot of votes,” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political analyst Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Nizamuddin Sulaiman told Malay Mail Online.

PKR’s Anwar is seen as the face of Malaysia’s opposition, having led allies to make major gains against ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in the last two general elections.

The leader, who is now in jail for sodomy, is still said to command unwavering support from constituents in Permatang Pauh, a federal seat he had held for close to 20 years both as Barisan Nasional (BN) and PKR MP.

Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Abu Bakar, a political analyst from Universiti Malaya (UM), added that PKR’s internal politicking, coupled with Saifuddin’s low profile in politics, will result in his presence in the party going mostly unfelt.

“While Saifuddin’s presence helps, it doesn’t help pull PKR and Pakatan Harapan up because they are marred with their own political squabbles.

“He’s not iconic enough… even Rafizi is of a higher stature. While he’s a character, he’s not a formidable character enough to have a big impact on PKR,” he said, referring to the party’s vice-president Rafizi Ramli.

Dr Faisal Hazis, associate professor at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia echoed the two analysts’ claims, although he added that PKR was in desperate need of a voice of moderation, especially at this time.

“There is a need a reaffirm the opposition’s messages which have been lost because of the collapse of Pakatan Rakyat and stuff like that,” he told Malay Mail Online.

“That is very clear, he’ll (Saifuddin) be a big surplus to whole opposition coalition, the only issue is the timing,” he stressed.

Explaining his view, Faisal said that Saifuddin’s move to PKR would have served the party better if he had joined when the newly-formed Pakatan Harapan had a more solid structure in place.

“People with his calibre and moderate views… don’t get me wrong, the opposition and BN need more leaders like him. Being very inclusive and very moderate, he is a good model for Malaysia.

“But the problem is the timing in joining Pakatan Harapan, with the internal bickering.

“At the end of the day, he will be subsumed and get dragged into the internal PKR issues and the impact he is supposed to bring will be minimal,” he said.

Ahmad added that Saifuddin may command the support of the youth, being the chairman of Akademi Belia, but it would be far more beneficial for the former Umno man to play on his strengths by spreading his progressive ideals.

“He’s not that type, his ideas are in connection with NGOs that will help him later. In terms of voter movement, maybe the youth… some supporters from his area last time.

“His ideas can influence the rest, moderation, they go for this instead, ideas on international accountability, transparency and all that… national unity, integration, cohesion will help the party,” he said.

Faisal also pointed out that while PKR’s plucking Umno members to switch sides was nothing new and almost a “trend” in Malaysia, it did not negate the need for the party to introduce fresh faces to contest during the general elections.

Saifuddin, who was once an Umno supreme council member, announced Thursday his resignation from the Malay nationalist party to join PKR.

The former deputy minister defended his decision to switch sides as being more aligned with the multi racial ideology that PKR practices.