How will Perikatan Nasional fare in the shifting sands of Malaysia’s political landscape? Pundits weigh in

Oh felt the onus was on Muhyiddin to convince the public of the credibility of his administration for it to remain long term. — Bernama pic
Oh felt the onus was on Muhyiddin to convince the public of the credibility of his administration for it to remain long term. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 5 — It might still be the newly wedded Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition’s honeymoon period, but pundits appear already divided over the long-term prospects of this union between the former sworn enemies.

Made up of predominantly Malay-based parties, some political experts deduced to Malay Mail that infighting could occur within PN as its members duke it out for seats and Parliamentary dominance, despite championing similar causes, if it were to compete in the 15th general election (GE15).

Political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid, when posed the question of how PN could move forward, envisioned possible conflict between Umno, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and PAS, since all three are vying for the same electorate.

“Will they not have headaches when it comes to dividing the seats later?

“I think their power bases are all similar, the Malay-semi-urban/rural-moderate/conservative (electorate).

“Or will they work something out?” questioned the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor.

Kartini said the almost-similar ideologies shared by Bersatu and Umno would make it hard for them to cooperate in the event of a general election as they would both be looking to expand their influence among similar demographics.

“Now with Bersatu in the fold, will there be enough seats for three parties vying for the same electorate?” she said, referring to PAS as the third Malay party within PN.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geo strategist Profesor Azmi Hassan, on the other hand, pointed out that a new mandate from the people is needed if the coalition, now led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, is to gain the trust of all Malaysians to be considered a serious political option.

"Policies developed must represent the interests of all.  

"If PN can convince the people in this matter, then no matter what the individual parties’ stigmas are, they will survive till GE15,” said Azmi.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun echoed Azmi on the topic of PN’s longevity but with a touch more pessimism, attributing it to today’s ever-shifting political alliances.

“Malaysian politics nowadays, I think, we are talking about daily survival, if not hourly survival, with constantly shifting alliances.

“You will see all sorts of cannibalism going on in the coming days. I don't think that's not going to happen in the future, I think it will happen,” he said.

Oh also felt the onus was on Muhyiddin to convince the public of the credibility of his administration for it to remain long term, saying that achieving longevity itself would be a commendable feat for the prime minister.  

He felt it would be difficult for PN to stick together beyond several years, citing the coalition’s formation out of convenience rather than shared ideologies as the reason.

“Let’s not try to think of something too long term, and I don’t think it is very meaningful to talk about going into GE15, and not cannibalising each other; the fact is this is a marriage of convenience with your estranged bedfellows.

PN officially became the new government when Muhyiddin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister on Monday, following a week-long political turmoil that saw the wisdom of Yang di-Pertuan Agong called upon.

Claiming to have the majority support of MPs within the Dewan Rakyat, PN’s Umno, Bersatu and PAS are accompanied in the coalition by MCA, MIC, GPS and an independent bloc made up of PKR’s former deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali’s faction of 10 lawmakers.

Bersatu’s inclusion in PN was preceded by its withdrawal from Pakatan Harapan (PH), which effectively became the Opposition bloc with its remaining parties PKR, DAP and Parti Amanah Negara.

Entry into East Malaysia?

Moving further down the road and into the idea of PN entering Sabah and Sarawak, both Azmi and Oh shared opposing sentiments, with the former saying parties within Muhyiddin’s coalition should remain in the Peninsula states.

He suggested that Eastern Malaysian politics remained a matter for parties from the two states.

“PH miscued when they wished to contest in the upcoming Sarawak state election; Borneo politics is quite pragmatic since they will support the federal government of the day.

“For example, there is even Sabah Umno, but they are quite independent from the Semenanjung (branches), so it’s best not only for Perikatan, but also for PH to remain in the Peninsula,” he said.

For Oh, he believes that parties like Bersatu and Umno will eventually look to expand their influence within Sabah and Sarawak.

“They all like to establish their presence there to avail themselves of the various parliamentary seats there.

“This is because if they depend on the East Malaysians parties to deliver those seats, they might also demand their share of the political spoils,” Oh said.

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