JULY 6 — One theory will tower over the other in August.
Voters in six states decide.
Whether one plus one is better than the mono-ethnic narrative.
The double-trouble of Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional (BN) to crush the aspirations of the Malay-first Perikatan Nasional (PN), or other twists wait?
One outcome leads to consolidation while the other forces a protracted period of political uncertainty to the 16th General Election, presumably in 2026.
Neither is certain.
This does not mean the elections are to be decided solely by either theories. However the post-election conversations will most certainly be dominated by either the narrative of how an unsatisfying marriage of foes did the unity job or that Abah is coming back sooner or later to lead the righteous flock.
This is not to discount the myriad other factors: New voters, young voters having their second go in an election, low-high voter turnout, quality of candidates and state issues.
Even if the other reasons may ultimately affect the outcome, the media and people are most interested in the two reasons, at this time of Malaysia’s political evolution.
Which is why both theories require examination.
A cordial state of Frenemy or transferable votes
When BN decided to partner Pakatan to form a government, few suspected it would turn into a comprehensive pact.
What fastens a union of two sworn enemies at the hips? The friendship of PM Anwar Ibrahim (Pakatan-PKR) and DPM Zahid Hamidi’s (BN-Umno), sturdy and built over decades.
While critics take aim at the values gymnastics both coalitions had to perform to appear natural with each other, none can accuse it of being brittle.
Pakatan’s leadership backs the boss, and Zahid has rid Umno of dissenters and consigned MCA and MIC to docile presences at the periphery.
The only upheaval ahead is the candidate announcement event. There will be tears, screams and a few broken podiums.
Pakatan-BN believes that the aggregation of both their votes, assuming the previous elections are replicated, hands them a handsome win, up to three states — Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Penang.
This relies on a seamless exchange of votes; Pakatan voters passing support to BN candidates, reciprocated by BN voters passing support to Pakatan candidates. That only a minimal number of their collective base will refuse to vote the party’s pick or do the dreaded, vote for someone else.
If that holds, Pakatan-BN have reason to be jubilant.
There’s the bonus, also. In a fractured political system, the presentation of two enemies coming together to help the country forward as a unity government — Kerajaan Perpaduan sounds a pleasant olive branch in Malay — may ultimately warm up to fence-sitters and win them too.
For example, if the Pakatan and BN votes are added from GE15 in Selangor, they comfortably outnumber the PN winners in the six parliamentary seats — Sabak Bernam, Sungai Besar, Hulu Selangor, Tanjung Karang, Kapar and Kuala Langat.
In theory, Pakatan-BN gets a good slice of those 15 state seats which fall under the six parliamentary seats.
Those numbers are not as impressive for Pakatan-BN in Kedah, the battleground state. Almost all the PN winners in Kedah — they won all minus one — had over 50 per cent of the votes. They beat both Pakatan and BN’s votes combined.
So, in brief, Pakatan-BN is confident that joint efforts and additions of fence-sitters will take the makeshift coalition across the finishing line.
Anwar and Zahid take a leaf out of the last Indiana Jones film in theatres near all the election operation rooms except Kelantan. Harrison Ford as the titular character explains his life, “I’ve come to believe it’s not so much what you believe, it’s how hard you believe it.” He may verily have explained the Anwar-Zahid election strategy.
It’s that same thing, you see!
Muhyiddin Yassin is flat out, out of ammo if the elections go south.
The whole team has one play, but it is a play as old as time. Us against them. And Muhyiddin asks, “Are you with me, or against me?” Yes, it is a religious-race thingy.
It yielded 75 parliamentary seats, but more importantly every parliamentary seat in three states except one — 36 out of 37.
Which brings us to the other revelation, they are convinced they have the big MO (momentum).
But elections are funny in Malaysia, as far as momentums go. Umno thumped their chests in Johor following victory in the state polls in March 2022, only to lose out to Pakatan eight months later.
Still, that’s what PN holds on to and a prayer the economy tanks a bit in the week to polling on August 12 — mostly chatter about the currency exchange rate.
In the way of parliamentary debates, issues formulation and general argumentations on how to pick the country up, Bersatu as the brains of the coalition has largely clocked off.
New ideas are not how parties like Bersatu and PAS build a base, if anything it is from telling people not to have ideas of their own, now and forever.
What remains for PN to do? Ramp up efforts to raise temperatures in the country, and emphasise that indeed Malaysians are divided by race, permanently.
Watch out for imagery rich speeches and TikTok videos.
This column is not dismissive of the PN method, it may invariably hand them comfortably Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, and wreak damage on Pakatan-BN’s numbers in Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.
The election results will be about interpretations, of how perceptions are enhanced.
True power in a highly centralised Malaysia is about controlling Putrajaya. There will be no change in federal government when these state elections are done.
In a moderate outcome, give or take within the normal margin for error, no panic sets in.
It is when upsets occur that the tables are turned. Like if PN takes the Selangor assembly, or Pakatan-BN ends 33 years of Kelantan under PAS.
Those permutations shock the system and accelerate the general election cycle.
Anwar would be immensely nervous to govern three more years with Selangor — PKR’s home-state — under his opponents, what more with Azmin Ali as menteri besar again. Or PN to feel they are the bastion of Malay-first pride if they have lost the most mono-ethnic state in the country.
The election results shape the nation’s tone for the next three years at least.
It is uncertain the country can stomach race and religion baiting for another thousand days.
But that won’t stop them from trying.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.