A new champion rises, but can PPBM avoid Umno’s pitfalls?

PPBM’s president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attend the party’s second annual general meeting at Putrajaya International Convention Centre in Putrajaya December 29, 2018. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
PPBM’s president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attend the party’s second annual general meeting at Putrajaya International Convention Centre in Putrajaya December 29, 2018. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 30 ― Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) leaders have made no attempt to disguise their ambition in the last two days to replace Umno as the new champion for the modern Malay masses.

From the opening speech by president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, its women’s wing chief Datuk Seri Rina Harun right down to last night’s policy address by chairman and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad have all been about how to elevate the Malay economic status so they feel like “masters” in their own country.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor Faisal Hazis said the similarities in agenda and speeches is expected; the bulk of PPBM’s top line-up were old guards from Umno and the two-year-old ruling party’s survival to GE15 relies heavily on the over 60 per cent Malay electorate.

“Umno originally was basically trying to do what PPBM is doing now,” he told Malay Mail.

“Eventually, over the last few decades Umno became an elitist party instead of a party for the masses,” he said.

He said both Muhyiddin and Dr Mahathir were only trying to dial back time to the days of the original Umno formed in 1946 and appeal to the rural Malays who form their biggest vote bank.

“They are trying to outdo Umno.

“There was no hiding in terms of intention to replace Umno as the dominant party for the Malays,” Faisal said.

He added that PPBM’s strength lay in the support of the Malay masses while its Pakatan Harapan (PH) partners and other ally each had their respective vote banks: PKR has multiethnic support; Amanah holds the Islamists; DAP has the ethnic Chinese and Warisan controls Sabah.

Laying the groundwork for GE15

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Perdana School associate professor Azmi Hassan expressed a similar view, saying PPBM’s urban Malay support and from non-Malays were due to the party’s membership as a PH coalition component.

“Yes, it is quite frustrating that the AGM sounds like an Umno general assembly, but again, the Umno DNA is in fact in most of the delegates,” he told Malay Mail.

But Azmi believes PPBM may be doubling down now to lay the groundwork to ensure it wins the support of its voter base in the next general election, though due in five more years.

“The best strategy that PPBM can strive coming GE15 is to get the support of the rural Malays and hence the similarities with its debates with Umno,” he said.

The parallels between PPBM and Umno stopped at the Malay agenda, the two pundits observed.

What set the two Malay Muslim parties apart was PPBM delegates’ demonisation of Umno leader during the AGM these last two days.

PPBM Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman proposed a special committee to vet membership applicants from Umno who wanted to defect.

The other significant difference was Dr Mahathir’s message in his policy speech last night that the country’s prosperity must be shared with all races, even as he upheld his “racist” insistence for preferential economic policies favouring Malays to close the rich-poor racial gap.

“Our objective remain the same, We want to turn this country into a developed nation equal to other developed nations.

“However, a developed nation does not mean part of the rakyat remains underdeveloped compared to the others. We do not want to be an impoverished community in a wealthy country. The bounties of this country must be shared by all races,” Dr Mahathir said in his lengthy policy speech.

Pacific Research Centre principal adviser Oh Ei Sun took a more cynical view of PPBM’s potential to grow into its own.

He said the recent intake of Umno defectors into PPBM might bring with them the destructive corrupt culture into the relatively young party.

“They are Umno wannabes, but still lacking the gumption and the ruthlessness to plunder and monopolise most national resources to benefit the party bigwigs who were supposed to then take care of those hangers-on, as Umno did so marvelously over the last half century or so,” Oh said.

“But with time, in incumbency and the anticipated massive Umno defectors’ infusion, PPBM will hone its skills in this regard,” he added.

Oh was not alone in his scepticism.

Early in his speech last night, PPBM chairman Dr Mahathir reminded delegates not to become arrogant as Umno after winning one general election but to bend their backs to fulfil their electoral promises or they may taste defeat in the 15th general election.

Perhaps this is the true challenge that PPBM has to overcome ― to inoculate themselves from Umno’s warlord culture.

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