Both Perikatan and BN set to gain from Pejuang sitting out Melaka poll, say analysts

Barisan Nasional members at the launch of the coalition's election machinery for the Melaka state poll at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur October 27, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Barisan Nasional members at the launch of the coalition's election machinery for the Melaka state poll at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur October 27, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 ― Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) are set to benefit from Parti Pejuang Tanah Air’s decision to steer clear of the upcoming Melaka state poll, as all three would have vied for votes from similar electoral demographics, said analysts.

Political observers told Malay Mail that Pejuang, despite being new and headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was also playing it safe by sitting out the election to avoid crushing defeats, which are likely given its weaker hold on the grassroots there compared to BN and PN parties.

“True enough, Pejuang’s decision to stay out of Melaka will no doubt benefit both BN and PN since the group of voters that will vote for Pejuang is the same group that also votes for either BN and PN,” said Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan.

Azmi said he saw Pejuang’s decision to not contest as the party being pragmatic about its reputation in the state, which has traditionally been an Umno or BN stronghold.

“It is wise for them to stay out of Melaka, at least to avoid risking their reputation as a formidable political party,” said Azmi.

Universiti Malaya associate professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi agreed, saying Pejuang would do well to avoid landslide defeats, which he said could end the party’s national aspirations prematurely.

“Moreover, if it contests the Melaka state election and loses, Pejuang would be sent to an early grave,” Awang Azman quipped.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun, however, felt that if Pejuang were to contest, the chances of all three could be affected given the wide-ranging support Dr Mahathir has.

He explained that Dr Mahathir appeals equally to both liberals and conservatives, with neither demographic having a huge margin over the other.

“I am not sure which one is larger, the original Pakatan Harapan (PH) voters, or the conservative Malay voters, because Dr Mahathir, his appeal is rather two-faced also,” he told Malay Mail.

The analysts were also on the same page about Pejuang choosing to remain neutral since being officially registered, viewing the party’s “wait and see” tactic as a strategic move before it decides which coalition to align itself with.

Azmi said the decision to remain neutral for now gives Pejuang an equal chance of cooperating with any of the three political coalitions — BN, PN or PH — but downplayed the party’s chances if it decided to go solo.

“Pejuang is still studying its options as to which is the best since I see that Pejuang going it alone without the cooperation of larger, established parties would be difficult for them, so they need to be in one of the three coalitions,” he added.

As for Oh, he agreed Pejuang was weighing its options ahead of a general election but said it would be unlikely that the party would ever team up with PH.

He said this is due to the thorny relationship between Dr Mahathir and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“The very purpose of Pejuang was to be distinct from PH so there is no love lost between them.

“They could on some issues work with PH, but I don’t see it. Even from the very beginning, in every sense, they were not meant to be close to PH because Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim simply cannot see eye to eye,” Oh told Malay Mail.

Awang Azman said Pejuang’s move to remain neutral, however, would be closely watched by both sides of the political aisle, adding it could go either way for the party when it tries to form future partnerships.

He agreed Pejuang’s decision to sit out the polls would adversely affect its chances of working with PH, even going so far as to suggest the decision to remain neutral might be due to them working on a new coalition altogether.

“However, it can be expected that they are actually forming a strategy to go up against PH, PN and BN.

“Pejuang would likely be more comfortable with Muda (Malaysian United Democratic Alliance) and Warisan (Parti Warisan Sabah) rather than PH and PN which are seen as not wanting to be associated with Dr Mahathir,” he told Malay Mail.  

Pejuang chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Yayasan Al Bukhary Kuala Lumpur, October 25, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Pejuang chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Yayasan Al Bukhary Kuala Lumpur, October 25, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

On Monday, Pejuang chairman Dr Mahathir announced the party’s decision not to back any political coalition in the upcoming Melaka snap poll.

He had, during a press conference, asserted that the statewide polls were just another ploy for politicians to lobby for important positions in the state government instead of improving its administration.

Pejuang’s deputy president Datuk Marzuki Yahya also said that the party wants to concentrate on its preparations for the 15th general election.

In contrast, Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) announced yesterday that it will be contesting the by-election, possibly under Pakatan Harapan’s banner.

Muda’s proposal however was met by opposition from Johor PKR Youth.

Voters in Melaka will head to the ballot box on November 20.

The state government collapsed following the defection of four assemblymen who said they had lost confidence in chief minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali.

This triggered the dissolution of the state legislative assembly on October 5, necessitating snap polls within 60 days.

The Election Commission has set November 8 as Nomination Day and November 16 for early voting.

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