Twin by-elections first test for Pakatan after Sarawak polls, analysts say

UKM’s Dr Faisal Hazis (pictured) said the DAP would have to put aside its rivalry with PAS if the opposition wanted to ensure straight fights in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar. — File pic
UKM’s Dr Faisal Hazis (pictured) said the DAP would have to put aside its rivalry with PAS if the opposition wanted to ensure straight fights in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar. — File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — After its dismal performance in Sarawak, Pakatan Harapan will have to swallow the bitter pill to ensure straight fights in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar, analysts said.

Although clashes between the pact and PAS look inevitable, the observers warned against allowing three-cornered fights with Barisan Nasional (BN), saying it would likely result in another embarrassing defeat for both Pakatan Harapan and the Islamist party.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor Dr Faisal Hazis said the DAP would have to put aside its rivalry with PAS and allow it to fight BN in the two seats, seeing as both federal constituencies have traditionally been contested by the Islamist party.

“But I think ultimately all opposition parties have to swallow the bitter pill, put aside their own ego and whatever differences.

“People have different agendas, different interests but if you want to win federal power, you need to put these differences aside and form working relations whether it’s Pakatan Harapan plus one or Pakatan Harapan plus two,” he said in a phone interview with Malay Mail Online.

The Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar seats were vacated after it’s MPs, namely Datuk Noriah Kasnon and Datuk Wan Mohammad Khairil Anuar Wan Ahmad, were killed when their helicopter crashed while they were campaigning for the Sarawak elections.

Dr Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak Institute, said Pakatan Harapan could not afford to repeat the mistakes they made in the Sarawak elections.

Instead, he agreed that the pact must regroup and stand united, even if it was simply to reduce BN’s margin of victory.

“Pakatan cannot afford to disagree openly in this case, especially when there is so little to gain. What they need to do is to limit the victory that will almost certainly be BN’s.

“The bigger the victory for BN, the greater the chances that Najib will call a snap GE,” he said in an email interview with Malay Mail Online.

Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, also said the opposition should avoid three-cornered fights at all costs.

“They should but they won’t, as each of them have their respective, rather self-serving, agenda,” he said when asked if Pakatan Harapan should avoid a three-cornered fight.

“DAP would have to keep its reputation among Chinese community in not cooperating with a hudud-hugging PAS. PAS of course has to come out in its traditional constituencies,” he explained.

Faisal added that while fielding Parti Amanah Negara, a splinter party formed from ousted progressive PAS members and a Pakatan Harapan ally, may seem like a natural progression, it would ultimately result in the party’s defeat.

“Purely based on reasoning of branding there’s better branding in PAS than Amanah and in terms of ground work, in these two seats have been contested by PAS before.

“It doesn’t matter if Amanah members are formerly from PAS. In these constituencies, at the end of day, Amanah represents a new party and no one knows about this party. Also, PAS is deeply entrenched in with the rural voters,” he said.

He added that Amanah would ordinarily function as an alternative choice for voters who do not want PAS or BN simply because it is part of a coalition, but said the argument would not matter after Pakatan Harapan displayed such poor cooperation in the Sarawak election.

During the Sarawak polls last week, a breakdown in seat negotiation led to clashes between DAP and PKR in six seats.

“At least if people don’t want to vote for PAS, they’d want to vote for a strong opposition coalition in the form of Pakatan Harapan but as we saw in the 2016 Sarawak election, that was non-existent.

“The strong opposition coalition was non-existent. So why would they vote for Amanah?” Faisal queried.

All three analysts agreed that despite the move being “unstrategic,” it was likely that the by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar would end up being three-cornered fights.

“Looking at how fragmented the coalition is and unstrategic they were, I would not be surprised if they put Amanah there. Because they’ve made so many un-strategic moves in the Sarawak state elections.

“But if they continue doing that, meaning they don’t learn their lesson, they could see the coalition collapse,” UKM’s Faisal said.

The 11th Sarawak elections saw BN winning by a landslide, bagging 72 of the 82 seats up for grabs.

The opposition suffered a crushing defeat, with DAP losing five of the 12 seats it won in 2011, PKR merely retaining their three seats and Amanah leaving empty handed.

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