AUGUST 17 — Peak hour MRT crowd, those standing reach for the hanging straps for support. If it’s the left hand, the columnist eyes for signs of indelible ink on the index fingers. Fellow voters from Saturday’s polling.

Curtains, finally, on six state elections. Were there learnings from the outcomes or same, same-lah?

Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) haul of 103 from 108 in its fortresses of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu decimates any nonsense Pakatan experts’ spew out about glass half full. Overall, Anwar Ibrahim — from this view in Dusun Tua — fails the test.


Much of the winners are PAS, but so what?

The Opposition coalition instantly claims it’s a referendum on the federal government — a newly super-glued super-grouping of Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional (BN).

Yet a silver lining for the prime minister, for now, Muhyiddin Yassin and his motley crew have to wait till at least 2026 ostensibly for a general election.


As Muhyiddin learns basket-weaving or plays “Call of Duty” to pass the time to his “destiny”, his classmate Anwar and his troops can regroup.

A safe segue for them now, thank the millions who voted Pakatan and BN. It costs nothing and means plenty to supporters.

Regardless of BN’s form — as pundits claim a solo Pakatan may have mustered the same support level — the super-group’s total votes exceed PN’s.

More than six million came out on Saturday — despite the three million who did not — most of them for Pakatan-BN.

The seat count is with PN but the overall headcount with the federal government.

How so?

Just Selangor and Penang — Pakatan strongholds — outnumber the other four states totalled. For instance, Klang Valley’s Kinrara, holds over 100,000 eligible voters compared to Terengganu’s Ladang with 25,000.

Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (centre) is seen with other leaders of his coalition during a press conference at World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur August 12, 2023. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (centre) is seen with other leaders of his coalition during a press conference at World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur August 12, 2023. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Shouting in the wrong places

Anwar is Pakatan-BN’s standard bearer and so his presence was of paramount importance throughout the campaign.

But what constitutes meaningful presence in 2023?

Throughout the election there were more audio shares of Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor’s take on race, religion and machismo in WhatsApp groups and TikTok — across PN, Pakatan and BN.

Is it possible that while Anwar has had a record number of photo-ops since becoming PM, fewer people actually listened to him since? His speeches are formal or officious but hardly exciting. Or worse either explain what a unity government is or defend its usefulness.

That is a problem.

A campaign of defining “what you are” cannot inspire, and if repeated persistently starts to jar.

PN instead was full action — even if antagonistic — telling voters they had to save Islam, save Malay rule, save a way of life and even save a nation of innocents from rock concerts.

Their voters felt they were on a mission.

Pakatan-BN was caught in neutral, asking voters for time — rather than faith — to see the unity through. Underlying, they expected their voters to appreciate the nuance. Subtlety is one trait no successful election campaign is built around.

Still, when passive met active, the Pakatan-BN total still trumped PN’s.

That’s indicative of Pakatan’s longstanding goodwill rather than Pakatan’s genius. This column said before the coalition loses credibility contesting with BN, and it duly did.

Besides the passivity, there is the other thing, Anwar’s present inability to channel Malaysia.

His journey to the apex was about his personal story to stay the course despite tragedies. Now as prime minister he still speaks like he is a politician, a debater ready to debunk his opponents rather than appear as a statesman heading a leading star of development, Malaysia.

In fact, his punishing schedule to be at maximum number of rallies appears shortsighted.

Would he have been better served by quality media and social media presentations?

In the campaign PN invested less on ceramahs and far more on social media.

This election displayed Pakatan-BN to be hapless in the face of PN’s self-anointment as government in wait. Every time the federal government referred to the royal houses to defend their rule, it dilutes its own potency.

It is fine the unity government was advised by the palace to manifest itself, but now that it has formed and nears its first anniversary, it should stand on its own.

Pakatan-BN has power but does not project to the people it is power.

Elections were 19 days from Hari Merdeka, yet Pakatan-BN failed to capitalise on it. The feelgood of Merdeka is hardwired in Malaysians, and the administration could have utilised it to counter PN’s save Malays, save Islam. Certainly, far more effective than whatever Pakatan-BN eventually churned out about unity being unity.

The PM could have maxed out July 31st Warriors’ Day celebrations. Show he is prime minister doing prime minister things for a great nation.

It surprises that BN did not pass this tip to him. But then again, it is a BN led by Zahid Hamidi the PhD holder, which mitigates the surprise.

Twelve years ago, Anwar the leader of then-Opposition did a set of poorly shot videos of him on the LRT. Standing alone in the train, left alone by the other riders.

He should get on the train again and thank the millions of Selangor residents for voting whether for him or not. This time as prime minister. From Sungai Buloh to Kajang, and switch to the Putrajaya line before busing back to the prime minister’s office.

Tell them how proud he is not only to be a Malaysian but to be trusted by his fellow Malaysians to lead “our” country.

This both Muhyiddin and Sanusi cannot, for now. And if during the election campaign, a climate of Malaysian nationalism reigned supreme, PN’s diatribe of race and religion ends up looking hollow and bitter, or worse, dangerous.

These elections are over but other battles lie ahead. To not learn is a serious folly.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.