Twin wins a shot in the arm for Umno

Divided, the opposition lies defeated

United Malays National Organisation candidate Mastura Mohamad Yazid shows her finger covered with ink after casting her vote outside a polling station during a by-election in Kuala Kangsar, north-east of Kuala Lumpur, on June 18.
United Malays National Organisation candidate Mastura Mohamad Yazid shows her finger covered with ink after casting her vote outside a polling station during a by-election in Kuala Kangsar, north-east of Kuala Lumpur, on June 18. PHOTO: AFP

Even before the campaign started, there were few who expected Umno to lose. An official from the government's propaganda unit told The Straits Times that "once it became a three-cornered fight, it was a walkover".

Not only did PAS and its former allies in opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) campaign against each other, they were also unable to convince the electorate that the opposition will bring about change.

The opposition had failed to take power in the last general election despite winning a majority in votes. For Malaysians who treasure stability, PAS and PH's unwillingness to stand together ahead of the next national election mark them as no-hopers in the quest to finally unseat BN after six decades.

Instead, voters not inclined to support the Umno-dominated government stayed home, resulting in low turnouts. Opposition-leaning Malay Muslims favoured PAS, which has been on a one-party drive towards an Islamic theocracy, while non-Muslims went with Parti Amanah Negara, formed by PAS rebels who insisted on continued cooperation with secular partners.

"It highlights the opposition's longstanding failure to understand that success in Malaysian politics means having a coalition that best captures the majority support of all races," said Mr Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent pollster Merdeka Centre.

He said PH exhibited "sheer hubris" in expecting an eight- month-old party like Amanah to replace PAS.

But PAS, too, has to face a reality check. It lost to Amanah in Sungai Besar, having come within 400 votes of victory just three years ago against Umno. It also lost support to its former colleagues in Kuala Kangsar, a "humiliation" for one of Malaysia's biggest parties, according to Mr Wan Saiful. It knows now it will not enjoy the same successes as it had in the past decade when it worked with Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Democratic Action Party.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline ' Divided, the opposition lies defeated '. Print Edition | Subscribe