Pundits cast doubt on PAS inclusion under PPBM's proposed Barisan Rakyat

Muhyiddin said a new coalition covering all opposition parties with the tentative name of Barisan Rakyat could be formed to oppose the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Muhyiddin said a new coalition covering all opposition parties with the tentative name of Barisan Rakyat could be formed to oppose the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — Hopes for a cohesive electoral pact among the opposition are dim as analysts predict that PAS is unlikely to join other opposition parties under the new coalition Barisan Rakyat mooted by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

Oh Ei Sun said the proposed Barisan Rakyat would have to at least replace the existing opposition Pakatan Harapan to have any chance, but pointed out the unlikelihood given the animosity between some of the major parties.

"I don't think BR can be an umbrella for DAP and PAS due to ideological differences. Nor can it be a vessel to accommodate Amanah and PAS due to their political enmity.  

"PPBM can try, but I don't think it would yield much success. In any case PAS nowadays is more akin to a ruling coalition member, having expressed many agreements on the government's policy proposals," the adjunct senior fellow at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.

At the months-old PPBM's official launch last week, party president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the party was in talks with opposition parties that are not already part of the Pakatan Harapan pact comprising of DAP, PKR and Parti Amanah Negara.

Muhyiddin had also said a new coalition covering all opposition parties with the tentative name of Barisan Rakyat could be formed to oppose the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, while PPBM chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had on the same day pointedly reminded unnamed opposition parties that their failure to join forces and unite with PPBM and Pakatan Harapan would be an act of betrayal to voters seeking a change in government.

PAS, which was formerly with DAP and PKR in the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat, has refused to work with DAP and Amanah in elections. Hopes that multi-corner fights can be averted has been kept alive by PKR and PPBM's willingness to continue negotiations with PAS, although progress has appeared negligible.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Datuk Samsu Adabi Mamat believed that the Barisan Rakyat name will just be a formal name for the recent alliance of PPBM and Pakatan Harapan, adding that it will be difficult to bring PAS into the fold despite the Islamist party's continued talks with PPBM.

"Because PAS no longer has an understanding with DAP, while Gerakan Harapan Baru formed Amanah, and so PAS has already declared that they have formed a third bloc so how is it possible that they enter into Barisan Rakyat?" he said, adding that three-corner fights would be inevitable and that there was no reasonable explanation for PAS to join Barisan Rakyat or work with the latter.

Samsu Adabi said, however, it was possible for small independent parties to join up with PPBM and Pakatan Harapan parties under Barisan Rakyat.

He said the decision on using the name "Barisan Rakyat" would be up to the parties involved, adding that they should be able to come out with a common manifesto as in previous elections but would have a harder time producing a common logo agreeable by all.

As for Universiti Malaya's Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, he said it was uncertain if the proposed Barisan Rakyat coalition could succeed in getting PAS to work with parties such as DAP.

"They have tried various ways before, currently they fail. Not too sure whether this time around they are going to succeed. They cannot stop trying because they know this is only avenue open to them," he said.

He said the Barisan Rakyat proposal seemed "good on paper", but noted that turning it into reality would not be easy as the groups and political parties within the federal opposition are not of one voice over many issues, whether in the short-run or the long-run.

"But what is not certain is whether they are able to do it, whether they are able to provide a glue to all groups in opposition camp. Some have been at loggerheads for a long time, some have personal grievances against each other. It's not easy to realise this kind of opposition stance," he said.

"It can come under any name, the point is given the disunity within opposition which has not been resolved before, is there any guarantee they are going to resolve it this time. I'm not sure whether they are going to succeed," he said.

Why Barisan Rakyat?

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Faisal Hazis questioned the rationale behind coming out with a yet another opposition coalition with the general election less than two years away, arguing that opposition parties should ideally use the already recognisable brand of Pakatan Harapan instead.

"To me it's not necessary. If at the end, DAP and PAS join forces under a different name, why don't they just join forces under Pakatan Harapan? I don't see the rationale," he said.

Time is not on the opposition's side for them to start a new coalition and form a new structure, when they could work on the existing Pakatan Harapan and put all opposition parties including PAS under it, he said.

He said, however, that some political parties may not be "comfortable" working under the Pakatan Harapan platform and would instead want a fresh coalition, adding that was also a feasible option.

"If coming up with new name will enable opposition to come together, by all means do it. If doing a new coalition can bring PAS and DAP together, why not?" he said.

"But I just don't understand, it's all about political branding, if you form a new coalition with a new name with election just round the corner and you want to sell new name, quite tough," he added.

He also said that the federal opposition should not only form a short-term coalition or a loose electoral pact if it wanted to be seen as a viable contender to be an alternative government.

Faisal said they should also focus on the substance of the coalition, adding that the bigger challenge is to reach a common manifesto and to start sharing it with voters, especially in the rural areas.

"If they can come together, the next big challenge is to talk about their manifesto and the message should be a narrative that can marry Malay and non-Malay narrative, urban and rural narrative. All the narrative was targeted more towards urban voters which comprised mostly non-Malays, some Malays voted for them, (but) somehow they have neglected the Malay and Bumiputera segment of voters," he said.

Oh however said :"Time is really not an issue here, as opposed to the willingness among the opposition parties to compromise on seat allocations."

Convincing Malay voters

Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute similarly highlighted that the federal opposition's priority now should be on its message to Malay voters.

"What seems important to the opposition right now is, firstly, to highlight the idea that toppling Umno is not an anti-Malay proposal. The prominence of DAP in PH, and PR before that, can easily be, and is often, used by BN to argue that a vote against BN is a vote for the DAP in some form or other, and therefore bad for the Malays.

"Secondly, convincing the Malay constituency that the struggle against the Najib regime is not about race but about ending bad governance and raising the standard of living of the Malays with a recalibrated opposition coalition where the anti-BN Malay leaders appear more united and more able to formulate a post-Najib agenda," he told Malay Mail Online.

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