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Think tank: Battle for GE14 to play out in Malay-Muslim heartland

 | October 23, 2017

Tricia Yeoh from IDEAS says the coming general election will likely be an 'uphill battle' for the opposition.

Tricia-Yeoh-undiPETALING JAYA: Despite the opposition’s best efforts to win over urban voters, it may not succeed in wresting Putrajaya in the 14th general election (GE14) as the real battle will take place in rural, Muslim-majority areas, a think tank warns.

In a commentary carried by Channel NewsAsia, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chief operating officer Tricia Yeoh said parties from both sides of the political divide are expected to capitalise on racially and religiously charged incidents.

“To win the hearts and minds of a majority Malay-Muslim Malaysia, one must prove to best represent their interests,” she said.

According to Yeoh, concerns over bread-and-butter issues like the rising cost of living, job security and home ownership trump any threats Prime Minister Najib Razak may face from the 1MDB scandal.

Warning that the 1MDB issue is “fast fading from Malaysians’ minds”, she added that its complexities “are not as easily relatable compared to the everyday concerns of Malaysians, save for perhaps a select group within the urban, cosmopolitan class”.

However, these urban voters may not be enough to overthrow the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government, she said.

Yeoh pointed to opposition party PPBM, led by Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which she said is gunning for the rural states of Johor, Kedah, Perlis and Perak – the country’s Malay-Muslim heartland.

She said this may be the “clincher” required by PH to win Putrajaya in GE14, especially if DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang’s claims of a “Malay tsunami” materialise with a minimum vote swing of 10%.

However, Yeoh added that PAS was now the “spoiler party” in the opposition’s efforts to oust BN from Putrajaya.

“PAS contesting as a third party in a first-past-the-post electoral system is far more likely to weaken the opposition coalition than Umno in key marginal seats,” she said.

“PAS as a third force directly threatens PKR’s performance in many Malay-majority marginal seats.”

However, DAP would likely not be as affected as its seats are mostly Chinese-majority, she said.

Adding that Najib would continually attempt to woo the Islamist party to work with Umno in the name of Malay-Muslim unity, she said Umno may in exchange agree to support PAS’ bill to amend Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.

The bill, known as Act 355, seeks to increase the penalties for certain shariah offences. Some say it is a way to introduce hudud law in Malaysia.

GE14 must be called by August 2018.

Yeoh said it was unlikely that PH would be on the winning end as Umno had “cleverly” shaped economic and Malay-Muslim issues to its advantage over recent years.

Calling it an “uphill battle” for the opposition, she added that Umno had continually made “full use of its infrastructure and resources, government institutions, political patronage and ethnic-religious politics to ensure its survival”.

She also pointed out that the opposition had won the popular vote in GE13 but still could not take Putrajaya.

This time round, she said, support for the opposition could be less given the break-up of the original Pakatan Rakyat coalition, the loss of a unifying figure leading the pact, and the public’s disenfranchisement with politics.

Pakatan Rakyat, which was formed in 2008, comprised PKR, DAP and PAS. However, it was declared dead in 2015 following a fallout between PAS and DAP over hudud.

PH, comprising PKR, DAP, PPBM and PAS splinter party Amanah, was formed in 2015.

Former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim meanwhile is serving a five-year jail term after the Federal Court upheld a conviction on sodomy involving his former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.


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