JUNE 5 — Can Pakatan Rakyat form the government after the 14th General Election if it dumps PAS?
Without PAS. Without the Islamic party. Without Parti Islam Se-Malaysia.
This is a what-if scenario, and to weigh the outcomes possible if the three-party coalition sheds one partner willingly. Though on the face of it, a numerically superior coalition should offer more, there are the elements to the three pegs which render the Pakatan stool a cumbersome proposition. Some pegs can’t and simply won’t change, not even to win federal power.
So this what-if scenario is all about Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Democratic Action Party (DAP) saying to PAS that while they remain chummy with Abdul Hadi Awang and his party members, their ideological goals are at cross-purposes which deny all three united a chance to present a solid representation devoid of contradictions to the voters. Separated, PAS can choose to work with other partners or seek to build strategic relationships as they deem necessary. This reintroduces the spectre of Pakatan lining up against both Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS in three-way battles around the peninsula, or PAS choosing to aim smaller and hit more often by contesting strong Muslim seats only. There is the outside chance that BN will absorb PAS.
It is imperative if the political equation was to be altered inexorably then the deed must be executed now, two years away from even the earliest of early elections. The adjustment in terms of Pakatan’s value proposition, loss of support, shoring up new support and cleaning up decision processes requires time.
The terms and nature of disengagement explained, what will materialise then in terms of realpolitik?
Electoral numbers to shift
The number of PAS seats in Kelantan, Terengganu, Perak and Kedah will shrink, because to younger Muslims voting for a PAS outside Pakatan is akin to voting for a religious state. Pakatan will struggle without losing deposits. It may even opt to contest for the Parliamentary seats only in PAS heartlands, asking voters to let PAS rule the state, but allow Pakatan to form federal government.
PAS’ returns in Pahang, Johor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca will drop to almost zero as in 1995, as areas with 60 per cent and lower Malay voters will turn away from PAS. If PAS persists with Sabah and Sarawak, then it toys with deposits being lost.
All in all, the dip will bring the party closer to the 10-15 seats count, enough to be king maker in a hung Parliament.
No hudud burden on their backs
PKR will be the initial major casualty in Pakatan. It’ll bleed the Malay-first faction within the party, due to reservations about just being in it with DAP and them looking uneasily at the increasing number of Umno-PAS powwows.
On the positive side, hudud law proposals and further religious state debates cease to be a Pakatan worry.
Most leaders will cope better except for those operating in Malay heartland states, and of course the de facto leader himself.
Anwar Ibrahim’s ABIM association and political leanings may force him personally to explain the need for multiculturalism, but he would not need to appease PAS’ more puritan ambitions while explaining.
The key argument for Pakatan to present to the Muslim population here: The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) is overwhelmingly filled with nations not adopting hudud, and Malaysia will be another inside that majority. Malaysia is being moderate by not being bogged down by a theocratic discourses.
The strategic advantage here for Pakatan would be to unhinge Umno, for that party cannot play the “balance” card anymore. Umno posits simultaneously, Malaysia’s multiculturalism rules out hudud but it is willing to study slash consider slash discussing slash evaluating the Islamic criminal code as opposed to PKR which is undecided since it has PAS with it. And then demonises DAP and throws accusatory harpoons at PAS for associating itself with the pagan DAP.
For decades, Umno has been defying the idiomatic proverb that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” This time they may end up choking on it.
And second, sporadically serenading PAS to join them in Muslim togetherness. They want to carry on in cycles with PAS to ascertain whether the party is actually opposed to Islamic ties among Islamic men who care about Islamic ties. By drawing PAS in to these circular dialogues, they can cast a picture of an uncertain PAS in Pakatan. An uncertain partner means the coalition remains in a flux.
It is likelier Umno will desist from courting PAS, if the Islamic party is severed from Pakatan. A Pakatan-less PAS is less enticing.
Changes in voting patterns and demographics
DAP had to lobby hard in the 1980s for a ceasefire with PAS because of the first past the post elections, Umno being the party of Malays rejecting PAS’ orthodoxy and a New Economic Policy (NEP) driven population a voting majority.
Only the first past the post reality remains today.
With the rise of PKR, there is a presence of a party ripe with Malays inside Pakatan. In reference to demographics, the first generation recipients have been crowded out by their children and grandchildren — the Gen X and Y — who have less apprehension living in country far different and more inclusive.
The truth of that observation will be tested if PAS chucks in its hat into mixed seat contests across the peninsula with BN and Pakatan, forcing three-corner fights. What is the prevailing political decision matrix of Malays below 50 will show.
A PAS collapse here would sign that the battle is between two secular coalitions, but a promising PAS showing will stunt the progress to a more progressive Malaysia.
Sabah and Sarawak is filled with Malaysians who are dismissive of parties from the west.
Umno had to import voters on behalf of Sabah to become number one there, but even then their leaders must always show a Borneo-first leaning.
BN or Pakatan-friendly parties over there want Borneo to dictate Borneo issues within the federation.
Therefore, the disparate parties over there that total the 56 Parliamentary seats would be better suited to talk to Pakatan to form electoral pacts if there was no religiously-divisive PAS. While the Muslim population is substantial in those states, they loathe those wanting to distinguish one Sarawakian from another, the same in Sabah, on the basis of religion.
With the fear of a religious state squashed, the Pakatan proposition becomes more attractive to them. Even if there were a drop in the number of total parliamentary seats without PAS, the Sabah-Sarawak nexus may edge Pakatan closer to power than in 2013.
Pakatan’s stratagem danger-points: Ceramahs and Selangor
Presently, PAS is the most grassroots party inside and outside Pakatan. PKR is a hodge-podge of things, but is not grassroots — it has many supporters but fewer voters. DAP have the fewest members, but they have a voting base.
Without PAS as a partner, the Pakatan ceramah which are often filled by the same crowd — for PAS members show up for events near and in adjacent areas — would lose numbers at the start. The same is the case for any Pakatan led rally. Often organisers wait with bated breath for PAS leadership to instruct members to participate in any Pakatan gathering.
On the flip side, the PAS members would have no national-inspiring causes to attend. They are then stuck with acceptably-contained entertainment festivals, prayer events and opposing the US for anything that happens in the world. A PAS member screaming for American heads over another drone attack in Afghanistan does not score as much cross-appeal score as when facing riot police in a Bersih rally.
PKR have the causes and are spread out within the NGO community and DAP picks and chooses its battles, but what will PAS do then?
Selangor will be a tinderbox for two years. Without PAS, Pakatan’s — 15 DAP and 14 PKR — 29 will rule the state of 56 seats. PAS would have a choice of turning to Umno or support the Pakatan government with a demand list in tow. Or strike a deal to be a state only coalition partner with Pakatan until the next general election, since the voters chose them for their previous residence in Pakatan.
This has happened in Sarawak where BN parties are partners in national elections, but opponents in state ones.
However, there is a very real chance the Selangor government might fall, and the new Pakatan gets to test its mettle against BN irrespective of how PAS interacts in the polls.
I’ll just repeat here what analysts have been saying lately, it may be prudent to lose the battle in order to win the war.
To win the first federal election over Umno would require Swiss-like execution and timing. PAS does not do fast-track.
The party is circumspect about everything, and therefore is not one for long term planning. It is a party of constancy, and bows to the Syura (cleric) council. They always want the right to reconsider.
It’s really not their fault. As a party committed to dogma before policy, they can’t ill-afford to lead their faithful astray. A decision has more than political ramifications for them.
When dogma dictates, then a political putsch is a nice to have, like curtains. But the home still is a home without curtains.
Pakatan’s challenge will be the 65 per cent or more Muslim seats, does PKR have the credentials to woo Muslims below 50 as the coalition of the future?
DAP has to shed its Chinese-first conditioning. All the talk in the world will not matter unless it is willing to upset the holy grail of Chinese schools, language based discrimination in the private sector and leadership ascension suspiciously ethnic driven.
Or not voters will see them only as a Chinese extension of Pakatan and not a different kind of democrat working with PKR to realise a better Malaysia.
What everyone gets at the end? The people of Malaysia will have a clear value proposition, not one muzzled by constant compromises which forces principles and policies to be perpetually fluid. Pakatan will be a new generation coalition.
BN will be forced to a massive soul searching, for the days of revelling in terminally imperfect opponents will be over.
PAS, well they may just surprise everyone on their own.
Again this is a what-if. It’s worth a consideration. A silly thought at least.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.