News analysis

Malaysia's opposition has its work cut out for it

Outcome of PAS congress ends any hope of united front against ruling BN in next general election

These are sobering times for most of Malaysia's federal opposition parties as the just-concluded annual meeting of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has killed any hopes of avoiding three-cornered fights at the next general election.

The mood at the five-day congress in Kedah was that PAS can still achieve good results despite ditching its former opposition allies. This sets the stage for many possible three-cornered fights at the next general election expected to be called this year. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Umno will likely face PAS and another opposition party, thus splitting the opposition vote.

The anger of PAS delegates at the congress that ended yesterday was directed more at fellow opposition parties, including Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP), than at Umno.

"Our biggest enemy is DAP and those who are anti-Islam," Penang delegate Mohd Yunus Mat Pia said.

Analysts say that while PAS has made noises about going it alone in the past few months, the multitude of voices supporting the move at the congress means there is no turning back.


The mood at Parti Islam SeMalaysia's congress was that the party could still get good results despite ditching its former opposition allies. PHOTO: FOTOBERNAMA

"PAS is hoping that some swing votes from Malay voters who used to back Umno/BN will go to them, because they do not want to make DAP stronger," said Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak of the National Council of Professors.

FREE WILL

What can we do if they want to contest (against us)? ''

PKR PRESIDENT WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL, in response to a suggestion that PAS may go up against PKR.


EYEING SWING VOTES

PAS is hoping that some swing votes from Malay voters who used to back Umno/BN will go to them, because they do not want to make DAP stronger.

'' PROFESSOR MOHAMED MUSTAFA ISHAK of the National Council of Professors.

 

"PAS wanted to teach Pakatan Harapan that without them, there will be a struggle to get the Malay votes," he added. Pakatan Harapan comprises PKR, DAP, PAS splinter party Parti Amanah Negara and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, helmed by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The ruling BN, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, won 133 out of the 222 parliamentary seats in the 2013 general election.

The Star newspaper reported yesterday that BN's internal polling data shows it is confident of winning 128 parliamentary constituencies, with an achievable target of around 140.

Up front, PAS' top leaders say the party is on the verge of achieving its best-ever electoral result of 40 parliamentary seats, and winning five of Malaysia's 13 states.

"This is no empty talk," PAS Research Centre's director Zuhdi Marzuki told delegates in a speech yesterday. "We know this after making studies," including simulation analysis and analysing possible outcomes from two-cornered and three-cornered fights, he added.

But the bravado is not shared by the other opposition parties.

History has also shown that PAS does well when it works with other opposition parties. At two simultaneous state by-elections in Selangor and Perak last year - the last time public polls were held in Malaysia - Umno easily defeated PAS and Parti Amanah Negara. The Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance that included PAS had been disbanded by then.

The best electoral performance for the Islamist party was winning 27 parliamentary constituencies and two states (Kelantan and Terengganu) in the 1999 general election. PAS was then part of the opposition Barisan Alternatif.

This result is a far cry from winning 40 seats and five states.

Today, however, gung-ho PAS members think they can do better by flying solo. PAS spiritual leader Hashim Jasin said the party could play the role of kingmaker, a reminder that it has been cosying up to Umno.

One PAS delegate said the party should field candidates in all the seats contested by PKR.

When asked, PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday: "What can we do if they want to contest (against us)?"

She added cynically: "If the mission is to bring down the 'kleptocratic' government, we think that this is the only rational way between both parties."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline ' Malaysia's opposition has its work cut out for it'. Print Edition | Subscribe