Why new Malay axis rattles the Pakatan govt

Almost every state in the peninsula, except Penang, will be in danger if Umno and PAS contest the next general election as 'husband and wife'.

Datuk Seri Azmin Ali arrived in Kelantan just days after Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) announced their "marriage".

If the Economics Affairs Minister had any reservations about the Umno-PAS pact, he kept it to himself and behaved as though the PAS state leaders were his dear friends.

Mr Azmin was in Kelantan in his capacity as the chairman of the state Pakatan Harapan action council and he pressed all the right buttons. He assured the Kelantan government on its oil royalty claim, spoke of federal projects and job opportunities in the state and urged Kelantanese to return to help the state progress. He prayed at the Melor mosque on Friday and even drove himself to inspect a highway project that was under construction. It was good optics following the barrage of criticism against him after Pakatan's defeat in the recent Semenyih by-election.

But like his Pakatan partners, Mr Azmin is deeply worried about the new Malay axis formed by Umno and PAS.

The reason is plain and simple - more than half of the 222 parliamentary constituencies are Malay-majority seats where Umno and PAS hold sway.

Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian says the political landscape could change dramatically if the Umno-PAS pact continues into the next general election.

THE MALAY MAJORITY SEATS

It is still early days but the Umno-PAS axis is set to be a game changer.

Political flags and banners in Johor on polling day for Malaysia's 14th general election last year, from which Pakatan Harapan emerged victorious. Pakatan is now worried about an alliance between Umno and PAS, as the two parties hold sway over the Ma
Political flags and banners in Johor on polling day for Malaysia's 14th general election last year, from which Pakatan Harapan emerged victorious. Pakatan is now worried about an alliance between Umno and PAS, as the two parties hold sway over the Malay-majority seats that make up more than half of Malaysia's 222 parliamentary constituencies. ST FILE PHOTO

"During the last general election (GE14), PAS and Umno captured about 75 per cent of the Malay vote.

"Malay voters account for nearly two-thirds of the electorate. A cooperative pact between the two largest Malay parties means that their core supporters alone are more than two-thirds of the Malay voters," says Mr Ibrahim.

He points out that there are currently at least 100 parliamentary seats that are 70 per cent Malay-majority and which can easily go to these two parties.

It also means that Malay heartland states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang - where Malays form more than 75 per cent of the population - will be beyond the reach of Pakatan.

Moreover, Kedah and Perak were basically hung assemblies, surviving only because of Umno cross-overs.

"With the exception of Penang, all the peninsular states currently held by Pakatan, including Selangor, will be in play," says Mr Ibrahim.

A list of 50 Pakatan-held parliamentary seats that will tumble to the combined might of PAS and Umno has been making the rounds on political chat groups.

The argument is that the combined votes of PAS and Umno in these 50 seats are much bigger than the votes secured by Pakatan candidates in GE14.

These seats include those held by Pakatan ministers and deputy ministers such as Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Datuk Mahfuz Omar, Datuk Saifuddin Nasution, Fuziah Salleh, Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof and Datuk Seri Rina Harun.

According to KRA strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim, the Umno-PAS pact will not have a national reach because the formula is unlikely to sell in Sabah and Sarawak.

However, says Mr Amir, Pakatan-held states like Kedah and Perak, where PAS and Umno have a strong presence, will be in danger.

"Negri Sembilan, Melaka and potentially Johor could also be in danger for Pakatan especially if Umno were to buck up. But there is only so much that PAS can assist in boosting Umno in these areas," says Mr Amir.

The new Malay axis is a clear and present danger to Pakatan, which is facing an erosion of Malay support.

Pakatan leaders have slammed the development as a racial move.

But Umno leaders say they have no choice. They have been spurned by the non-Malays in two general elections and they need a new ally to survive the next one.

The reaction from some Pakatan leaders has been emotional, with some saying it is akin to "declaring war on non-Malays" and likening it to a "scorched-earth policy".

PAS THE KINGMAKER

"The tables have been turned, they are clearly worried. PAS has been talking about being the kingmaker. I think we are seeing it now. Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wants the support of PAS," says political commentator Azmi Omar.

Pakatan leaders, says Mr Amir, recognise the implications on the Malay ground and they will need to double up their efforts towards the Malay base.

All this is building up to a very disturbing trend: Every issue will tend to take on a racial angle and also a religious undertone because PAS tends to put an Islamic argument on every issue.

Together, PAS and Umno will become a very powerful and influential Malay voice.

There is also some sort of supreme irony at play. Umno, which used to be the biggest and most powerful component in Barisan Nasional, has been rejected by the non-Malays.

More than 90 per cent of the Chinese voted against Barisan Nasional in the last two general elections because of their dislike for Umno.

Now, it is the Democratic Action Party's (DAP) turn to feel the heat. The Chinese-dominated party is the most cohesive and strongest bloc in Pakatan but has become a target of hatred among Malays.

NEXT TEST: RANTAU BY-ELECTION

Whatever advances DAP made on the Malay ground have been reversed. The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that DAP leaders are calling the shots in Pakatan.

The PAS-Umno pact will soon be put to a stringent test on April 13 in Rantau, which is a mixed seat that would have favoured Pakatan before the Malay vote turned sour on them.

Malays make up about 54 per cent of the voters, Indians 27 per cent and Chinese 19 per cent.

Analysts have been predicting another win for Umno, but the by-election will be challenging for both sides because the non-Malay mood is still stoically pro-Pakatan.

"Race and religion will likely be part of the PAS and Umno rhetoric. Hopefully, Pakatan will not be tempted to outdo them on this front. Fighting fire with fire will not do anyone good," says Mr Amir.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline 'Why new Malay axis rattles the Pakatan govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe