KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — The restructuring and rebranding of Barisan Nasional may prove futile if it relies heavily on just Umno to shore up public support, analysts have said.
They believe that while BN through Umno still has a strong following among rural Malays, the coalition has problems in attracting urban Malays and other races.
This is despite Umno’s plan to rope in smaller political parties to be a part of the coalition.
Political analyst Azmi Hassan said BN's courtship of Indian-based communal parties including the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) and the Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party is part of its strategy to gain non-Malay support.
“However this is not enough to gain the urban Malay and Chinese votes, even as it maintains a voting grip upon the East Coast states and rural areas,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
Azmi said for BN to achieve this objective, it needs political parties that are synonymous to urban Malay voters such as PKR, or parties trusted by the Chinese community such as the DAP.
“Concerning Sabah and Sarawak, BN's first step at rebranding should be granting autonomous discretion to Umno Sabah, and building friendly ties with Gabungan Parti Sarawak at the same time,” he said.
Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies regional analyst Oh Ei Sun said BN's attempt to reinvent itself by bringing in Kimma and Makkal Sakti may fall flat, since the two are very minor parties, and are unlikely to attract much support.
“Looking at Umno, it is being decimated over time as it has become a party held together by benefits and gains but not ideology.
“So it is no surprise that its leaders look for greener pasture (elsewhere) now that Umno is in the Opposition. It would take a long time, at least until PH starts to screw up, for BN to even begin its journey in becoming relevant once more,” he said.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid said she is not surprised that BN is mulling to allow Kimma into the fold, as the latter has wanted to be a part of BN for so long.
“But I do not think Makkal Sakti would be able to join BN, since its stance as a right-wing party is a bit radical.
“Kimma may seek BN membership, but with the way things are going now with Umno they might as well join (up with) Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM),” she said.
Even though Umno faces a bleak future, Kartini said it is likely the party will survive and live on in other forms.
“Remember that when Umno's establishment in 1946 was more akin to a coalition of 29 various organisations. Its political culture is such that Umno can simply reincarnate, this time in the form of PPBM.
“Also note that Umno had essentially disappeared in the late 1980's, when it split into Team A and Team B which eventually resulted in the formation of Umno Baru,” she said.
Kartini was referring to the infamous Umno elections in April 1987, when then-president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was challenged by his former Finance Minister Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah for the presidency.
Although Dr Mahathir retained his post by a razor-thin margin the party was split into two sides, with Dr Mahathir's faction known as Team A and Tengku Razaleigh's as Team B.
Things eventually came to a head when the matter was brought to the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on February 1988, where Umno was ruled as an unlawful society.
Subsequently Dr Mahathir established a party called Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (Baru), which succeeded its predecessor, dropping the 'Baru' suffix and taking over old Umno's assets.