KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — Despite all the chatter among political observers about the future of Perikatan Nasional (PN), it is likely the coalition will survive to fight another day even if they have a poor outcome in the upcoming Johor state election.

Political analysts like Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan think PN which is primarily Bersatu and PAS will still be able to contest in the 15th general election (GE15) regardless of how they do in Johor.

“Look at Melaka, it was a very poor performance for Perikatan Nasional (PN), but they are still surviving... they are still around.

“So Johor will be no different as a state election is totally different from a general election,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

Still need each other

He explained that in a general election, Barisan Nasional (BN) will still need PAS, and this means that BN will need to give some leeway to Bersatu.

“Bersatu cannot be forever adamant that they don’t want to work with Umno, because during GE if they go without PAS, or without Umno... and after the Johor state polls, PAS will be thinking very hard that they need to be with Umno facing the GE,” he said adding that somehow or other the three parties will have to work together.

In the Melaka state election, BN bagged 21 seats from a total of 28.

However, Umno-BN are currently at loggerheads with PN in the run-up to the Johor state election.

In recent news reports, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had condemned BN leaders who refused to work with PAS in Johor.

Abdul Hadi also reportedly said that Umno and BN have now turned their backs on PAS despite the latter helping BN a lot since their defeat in the 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018.

Their relationship seems to have soured and this has affected their political pact Muafakat Nasional which was established in 2019.

In this context, Azmi said Umno may be able to go solo in GE15 but it will not be able to form a government without PN.

“There is no way for Bersatu and PAS to survive GE15 on their own, not as they are right now.

“Bersatu and PAS need to work with BN in order for them to survive, and if you are talking about Umno wanting to form a government with a healthy majority, they need help from PN (Bersatu and PAS),” he said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said the Johor state polls may not necessarily affect PN as a coalition per se, but more its status as a national coalition.

“Bersatu will be more and more reliant on PAS as the PN’s strongest component party, with stable bases of power in northern and northeastern Peninsular Malaysia,” he said.

Ahmad Fauzi also warned that Bersatu will gradually lose its “power of patronage” as its influence within state governments and the federal government wanes.

“PAS will become the senior party in PN, lending PN a regional rather than national image,” he said.

But this depends on whether Bersatu wants to go the Umno way or the PAS way, he added.

“Either way, Bersatu increasingly looks set to become the junior partner, unlike in 2020 and 2021. Its fortunes will depend on how its senior partner(s) fares in elections,” said Ahmad Fauzi.

No more traditional politics

Independent researcher Shahrill Sabarudin said that to remain relevant in the country’s political landscape, PN has to steer clear of traditional politics.  

“PN needs to take heed of this changing political landscape in order to face GE15, otherwise it is at the risk of getting lost in the overall narrative if they keep harping on the whole ‘court cluster’ issue,” he said.

The term “court cluster” came about last March 2021 to refer to Umno leaders facing criminal charges in court.

“It may be effective in riling up sentiments and stirring emotions, but it’s important to understand two important things. First, that this is a state election... there might be some national issues that weigh on the voters’ minds, but there is a risk of it being oversold or becoming irrelevant,” said Shahrill.

He added that for PN, this is increasingly becoming more of a zero sum game between PN and Umno.

“It is evident that PN is training their guns and focusing all their energy (at the moment) on Umno, specifically on several personalities while neglecting the rest of the contending parties, even the other components of BN –- MCA and MIC.

“PN needs to dig themselves out of the rabbit hole, widen their focus and start coming up with  new and concrete solutions for the people rather than political rhetoric if they want to stay on top of the game. In fact, this applies to every party,” he said.

No stopping Umno-BN

However, he warned that PN cannot stop the resurgence of Umno-BN, and there is a possibility that the viability of their political pact will have to be reassessed at the national level heading into GE15.

“We already see that BN has decisively shifted from the traditional ethno-religious ethos and sentimentalism to more relevant economic and governance stands which used to be PH’s strong point.

“A strategic, nuanced and more modern appeal to a wider vote base will be paramount in any election this time around, especially with the inclusion of the largely unpredictable youth votes where nostalgic political messages no longer work, and the racial lines are more blurred,” he added.

When commenting on Bersatu-PAS entering GE15, Shahrill said there are too many variables in the equation when assessing the strength of Bersatu-PAS against Umno-BN heading into GE15.

“Firstly, the string of victories enjoyed by Umno-BN recently did not stem solely from its formidable machinery and vote base, but also the fact that previous baggage (1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal and Goods and Services Tax) no longer carries the weight it once did in GE14.

“On top of that, a seemingly disunited Opposition and their questionable leadership decisions have disenfranchised their vote base, resulting in BN’s easy path to victory.

“Having said all this, any by-election or state election cannot be used as a realistic gauge as to how strong or how revived Umno-BN is against Bersatu-PAS and also vice versa,” he said.

He added that the numbers game is getting more complex with the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) list which includes the 18- to 20 year-old voters.

He said this dramatically changes the approach of seat categorisation that was usually sliced and diced according to urbanity and racial composition, but now has to factor in voter age as a key demographic component.

“This Johor state election could provide a glimpse of how the energy, passion and dedication of the youths manifested on the streets can be translated into the democratic process,” he said.

The Election Commission has set polling day for Johor on March 12, while early polling is on March 8. Nomination day is February 26.