KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 — The alliance between Islamist party PAS and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) may serve to strengthen the flagging Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, but the dynamism of its unity will only be seen in the 15th general election, analysts said.
Those polled by Malay Mail opined that the situation remains too fluid for them to predict whether the cooperation between the two parties could scupper Umno-Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) chances at the polls.
Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, a senior associate with political risk and public policy consultancy Vriens & Partners, believes that Bersatu and PAS alone may not have enough star appeal to win the next national polls, and would need more allies down the road.
“Bersatu and PAS’ commitment to each other will help strengthen PN, given Umno’s recent decision to formally quit working with Bersatu in GE15. For one, the seat negotiations between Bersatu and PAS would likely be less complicated than with Umno.
“Bersatu doesn’t have traction or a stake in the key states that PAS is in — Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and to some extent, Perlis. Umno, on the other hand, has a stake in these states.
“But an alliance between the two may not be enough to win GE15, and they would need more allies down the line,” Shazwan said.
He added that MIC, Gerakan, and even MCA may join PN, which would leave Umno out in the cold and the nationalist party would need to realign with other allies should this occur.
“Things are still fluid. While Bersatu and PAS have doubled down on their alliance in PN, Umno still held a high-level meeting with PAS using the Muafakat Nasional (MN) banner recently.
“Umno itself is currently at the crossroads as to which direction it should take. We can expect more clarity on this down the line as we head closer to the elections,” he told Malay Mail.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) political sociologist Prof Sivamurugan Pandian also agreed with Shazwan, adding that strategically, Bersatu and PAS can easily decide their seat allocations between themselves.
“BN might not face any seat allocation if it is going solo. Until GE15, it is difficult to say because we don’t know who will join who in the end. They will not face any issues in Malay-dominated seats. As with Bersatu and PAS, they may have to compromise on Malay seats.
“With Bersatu, PAS will have to sacrifice some traditional seats. But with other component members, they can continue to contest them.
“Next GE will be anyone’s call,” he said.
Last month, Bersatu and PAS confirmed that they will maintain their political cooperation through PN, well into GE15.
The decision, which was announced by the two parties’ secretaries-general, will leave nominal ally Umno on its own following the Malay nationalist party’s decision to reject Bersatu at its annual general assembly.
According to a statement by Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuidin and his PAS counterpart Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, this was decided in a meeting involving the presidents of both parties.
They said their parties remained committed to reinforcing Muslim unification and were prepared to work with other parties that supported this vision.
The two leaders said their parties chose to remain with PN in the interests of political stability that was vital for the nation still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The statement appeared to mark a complete breakdown in the relationship between Bersatu and Umno, which the latter resolved to terminate going into the general election.
Prior to this, Bersatu had continued to extend the olive branch to Umno, while PAS tried to convince the Malay nationalists to return to PN in the interests of Muslim unity.
Fight for same slice of pie
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid, when posed the question of how PN could move forward, envisioned possible conflict among Umno, Bersatu and PAS, since all three are vying for the same electorate.
She also concurred that the political partnership would be beneficial to Bersatu and PAS, but said that Bersatu may have to strive harder to win the trust of voters, especially since it has accepted many party hoppers.
“The alliance would allow both parties to work together in GE15. PAS would retain 18 or more seats. Bersatu may have to work harder to win voters’ trust because members were from Umno and PKR. Political hopping is not accepted by most voters, especially in urban areas, and hardcore members of the original party,” she told Malay Mail.
Kartini said that PAS already has seats set aside here, in Kelantan and Terengganu, as well as some parts of Kedah and Perak.
However, rather than the Opposition, Kartini painted a grim future for Umno, if it still proceeds under the leadership of its current president, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“Umno must conduct an internal election to select new members if it wants to stay relevant in GE15.
“The continuous effort by Zahid through Umno to work with PKR without DAP is already a bad sign for BN. DAP has most of the Chinese support in all urban areas and mixed seats. PKR may not want to break its alliance with DAP because urban voters may vote for PKR because of DAP,” she added.
Two against one
Geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan, however, said that whatever the configuration — either PAS-Bersatu vs Umno or PAS-Umno vs Bersatu — all three parties stand to lose.
He said that when Bersatu, PAS and Umno go against each other individually or in an alliance, PH always has the advantage, as the Malay votes that the three parties seek are now split in two.
“So as I see it, no matter what, two versus one will never work with these three entities. They need to cooperate, they need to agree, especially on seat allocation, so that it is three versus one.
“Three meaning Bersatu, PAS and Umno versus PH. In that case, it will be detrimental to PH, as the three Malay-based parties will gain leeway or a huge advantage in terms of support from Malay voters,” Azmi said.
He also predicted that PAS will dump Bersatu for Umno as GE15 draws closer, as Umno still has a strong foothold in the Malay heartland.
“As to the viability of the partnership with Bersatu, PAS, in this case, once GE15 is near, will realise that it is better to be with Umno, because Umno has a strong presence in the Malay heartland, especially Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.
“So in this case, PAS vs Umno is not good. On the other hand, if it is PAS vs Bersatu, the latter has yet to prove it is a formidable force in the Malay heartland.
“It is for this reason that PAS might abandon the PN ship and join hands with Umno for GE15, but it all depends on PAS and Umno leadership to make it happen,” Azmi added.