Multi-ethnic BN to suffer as Umno set to contest as many seats as possible on its own to deter Perikatan, analysts suggest

Analysts say Umno will be out to win as many seats as possible in GE15. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Analysts say Umno will be out to win as many seats as possible in GE15. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) odds running up to the general election has become much more tenuous as the coalition's lynchpin party, Umno faces a tense relationship with the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration, according to political analysts. 

Marred by poor performance in the last few general elections and fighting for relevance post-GE14, political analysts find both component parties MCA and MIC to be worse off and will face a very tough road ahead under the BN coalition, with Umno set to dominate the stage.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan said Umno, which has the most influence in BN, had gone past “labelling” the coalition as “multi-cultural” and has instead rushed to merely win as many seats as possible. 

“Umno grassroots are quite vocal that they want to contest all Malay majority seats, including Ayer Hitam and Tapah. Even though Datuk Seri M. Saravanan and Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong managed to scrape by [in the last election], the votes are coming from Umno voters,” he said.

Tapah MP Saravanan is MIC’s deputy president, while Ayer Hitam MP Wee is MCA president. 

“I think it is going to be very hard to persuade Umno grassroots to field Saravanan or Wee Ka Siong to defend their seats because Umno is gunning for their seats, as PAS and Bersatu are their enemies right now. 

“And whether BN wants to portray itself as a multi-racial coalition, Umno has gone beyond that. What they are looking at now is not to portray that they are a multi-racial party since MCA and MIC have a negligible influence in BN. 

“What BN is trying to do is right now is to win as many seats as possible,’’ he told Malay Mail

However, Azmi suggested that based on previous GE14 results, both Saravanan and Wee stand a chance to win, if they contest as incumbents. 

In the 2018 general election, MCA only won the Ayer Hitam seat in Johor, held by Wee, out of the 39 federal seats that they contested, and won only two state seats of Titi Tinggi in Perlis and Cheka in Pahang out of the 90 contested in GE14 

For MIC, it had only won two out of nine federal seats it contested, namely Saravanan in Tapah and Datuk C. Sivarraajh in Cameron Highlands. 

For state seats, MIC only won three out of 18 state seats it contested, namely the Jeram Padang seat in Negri Sembilan, Tenggaroh and the Kahang state seat in Johor. 

However, Sivarraajh lost the Cameron Highlands seat after the Election Court ruled vote-buying was involved. While BN retained the seat in the subsequent election, it was won by Ramli Mohd Nor, a direct representative of the coalition who also became its first Orang Asli MP. 

The BN numbers remained as MCA’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng later took Tanjung Piai in a by-election following the death of its Pakatan Harapan incumbent Datuk Dr Farid Md Rafik from heart attack. 

Praba Ganesan, chief executive of democratic rights group Kuasa, also said that Umno will be hard-pressed to consider fielding candidates who are not its own members in Malay-majority seats for the coming election. 

“It is really difficult for the coalition to even retain the number of seats they have now because there are those in Umno who are asking on why they are giving seats to MCA and MIC, which they opined would lose anyways. 

“The formula that was practiced by BN before is that Umno would trade off certain seats to MCA and MIC in hopes that they would garner support from non-Malay voters brought by MCA and MIC in other seats. 

“But if there is no uplift of support, then the basis of this formula would not be there. That is why both MCA and MIC are hedging their bets with both PN and BN.’’ said Praba. 

Recently Kuasa had launched an election website to track GE15’s 20 most hotly contested seat, which includes Tapah, Ayer Hitam, Pagoh, and Gombak, among others.

Taking Tapah for example, Praba pointed out that Saravanan had won largely on the Orang Asli votes, something which Umno wishes to leverage as well. 

Wee is also facing DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong in Ayer Hitam, an already challenging task which could be further complicated if PAS were to contest there, said Praba. 

Taking Tanjung Piai as an example, Praba also stated that MCA’s win in the federal seat might not be indication of actual support for the party as the by-election at the time was capitalising on anti-Pakatan Harapan sentiment. 

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun, also concurred with Azmi and Praba, stating that Umno is very likely to field its own candidates in Malay majority seats. 

“In general, I think in the next GE, Umno would like to have its own candidates standing in seats where Malays constitute either the majority or the significant plurality of the voters, as it scrambles to win as many seats as possible over other Malay parties, in order to maintain its status as the preeminent Malay party and therefore clinch the leading role in a ruling coalition,’’ he said. 

Depending on how well Umno managed to position itself, they could work with other political parties, including the DAP to form a new government, said Oh.  

“As non-Malay, especially Chinese, votes are unlikely to ever go to any of the Malay parties, Umno could either team up with DAP to form a government if it is no way near a parliamentary majority, or could simply appoint some decorative Chinese senators if it is close to a parliamentary majority and teams up with PAS or some East Malaysian parties,’’ he said. 

However, Oh also suggested that BN will still have some clout to position itself as a multi-ethnic coalition compared to PN, claiming that non-Malay voters are quite cautious of its ally, Islamist party PAS.

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