Can PPBM replace Umno to represent Malays and Islam?

PPBM chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the last day of the annual general assembly in Putrajaya December 30, 2018. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
PPBM chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the last day of the annual general assembly in Putrajaya December 30, 2018. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, Feb 18 — At a time when it needs support, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) has instead come under fire from its allies in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government for accepting lawmakers who defected from Umno and its plan to spread its wings to Sabah.

The Malay-based party chaired by former Umno president of 22 years Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is now seen as attempting to “dominate” the ruling coalition, which is widely perceived to be under DAP control.

With his great experience, Dr Mahathir was given freedom in the selection of his Cabinet members, but now his image and credibility are being slowly chipped away, starting with controversies over the academic qualifications of some ministers and at least one mentri besar.

His decision to expand PPBM to Sabah has also aroused discontent.

The situation is alarming because it puts PPBM on a head-on collision course with rivals Umno and PAS in the run-up to the March 2 by-election for the Selangor state constituency of Semenyih.

The four-way fight involves independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng, who is popularly known as Uncle Kuan in the constituency, 30-year old Muhammad Aiman Zainali from PH, 58-year old Zakaria Hanafi from BN and Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul from Parti Sosialis Malaysia.

However, the real fight is between PH and BN where individual components in both coalitions compete to be recognised as the party that best represent the Malays and Islam, given near to 70 per cent of Semenyih’s 54,000-odd voters are Malays.

While BN’s Umno is aided by Islamist PAS which has considerable followers and considered as the “kingmaker” in this battle, PH’s PPBM cannot do the same with its Islamist partner Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) because the latter has yet to fully accepted by the Malay community in the country.

Still regarded as being in its infancy, PPBM has to depend on the election machinery of another ally PKR, while Chinese-majority DAP bring in the minority votes.

The ground in Semenyih is rough for a new kid on the block, because the situation is much different from a general election and local issues override national ones.

The stakes are high for PPBM despite being part and parcel of the ruling coalition because the party is now seen as attempting to dominate and expand, which worry DAP and some leaders in PKR.

Already voices of objections are raised, sarcastically questioning Dr Mahathir’s wisdom, running down the defecting Umno MPs that joined PPBM as rubbish.

This perception has made PPBM a target of envy and labelled as an untrustworthy partner may affect its campaign in Semenyih as support from its partners in PH may not be whole.

But PPBM has a stalwart ally in PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and his band of loyal followers who have already pitched tents in various locations within Semenyih to ensure the party wins Semenyih.

Whether PKR’s election machinery can match that of BN and PAS is yet to be known, but their itineraries since campaigning officially kicked off two days ago have been packed.

PPBM’s test to be on the same level if not higher than its partners in PH has begun and whether or not it can replace Umno as the party for the Malays is now being scrutinised.

PPBM risks losing credibility with its PH partners as a clean and trustworthy Malay party if it loses in the Semenyih battle.