Bersatu unlikely to unseat Umno, say economic analysts

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KUALA LUMPUR: Newly formed opposition party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is not likely to defeat Umno.

This is the view of political and economic analysts interviewed by CNBC. However, they expressed concern about the current state of the nation.

Given Umno’s deep roots and historical dominance, Bersatu may not be a formidable enough opponent, Tringh Nguyen, Asia-Pacific economist at investment bank Natixis told CNBC.

“It is doubtful that this new political vehicle is going to do much given Mahathir’s age (91) and also waning political clout… It’s unlikely that Mahathir can galvanise support to topple Najib Razak,” he added.

The report noted that Malaysia’s fractured political landscape, especially with the Opposition in seeming disarray, was another reason Umno would likely continue to rule the roost.

“There are many challenges facing Bersatu, especially with the opposition disunited,” it quoted Norshahril Saat, fellow at the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute, a research group specialising in Southeast Asian studies, as saying.

Saat said infighting between opposition parties such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), had solidified the Barisan Nasional’s grip over the country.

CNBC quoted Oh Ei Sun, Najib’s former political secretary from 2009-2011 and a current senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, as saying Bersatu was only created to topple the PM.

The report noted that Amanah, PKR and DAP had teamed up as Pakatan Harapan, and that they lost in two recent by-elections. Another pact, Saksama, had been formed by “smaller opposition vehicles” it said.

Bersatu has said it was not averse to allying with Pakatan Harapan. If that were to happen, Oh said, it would only muddle the opposition landscape further

Saat said, however, that these alliances would make the 2018 General Election interesting. “Mahathir’s hope is that sentiment against the BN government has not changed since 2013, when more than half of Malaysians voted for the opposition,” he added.

With a lack of viable alternatives to Najib and slowing economic growth, Malaysia overall was in a state of “strategic survival,” the CNBC report quoted Nguyen as saying.

He said amid the messy political atmosphere, there was an air of stagnation around the country’s medium-term outlook and a lack of debate about how to take Malaysia to the next level of development.