It’s uphill for Bersatu

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Even before its registration is complete, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia already faces something of a crisis of confidence with the public. The announcement that the party would be a Bumiputera-based one was a tremendous letdown to non-Malay voters who had hoped that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad would prove his doubters wrong by creating an inclusive, next-generation party.

The party is now stuck in the task of defending itself.

But beyond the disappointment over racial restriction to full Bersatu membership, there is a distinct lack of excitement surrounding the establishment of the party.

If we leave out of account the three Ms – Mahathir, Muhyiddin Yassin, Mukhriz Mahathir – we’ll see that Bersatu is bereft of star power and political muscle although, according to some accounts, there has been some panic in Umno since the middle of last month, when Mahathir first announced that he was forming a party to serve as a platform for people who are against Prime Minister Najib Razak but are unwilling to join existing opposition parties.

To be fair, we may see a string of defections from Umno should Najib’s position become untenable. Whether or not that happens, Mahathir does need to bring some big names to his side. If he can win over neutral groups, such as the G25 moderates, and give the impression that Bersatu is more than Umno, then perhaps people will look at the party differently.

The inclusion of Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman and Anina Saadudin in the party is not quite enough though the two have established good credentials with the public over the past year.

As things stand, there’s no escaping the notion that Bersatu faces an uphill climb. Najib appears to be still lord and master, and he has trotted out big name after big name to sneer at Bersatu.

Umno seems to regard Bersatu with a combination of contempt and hostility. Maybe there’s also some fear, but it has shown a more or less united front, at least among its biggest names.

But all is not lost for the new party. Public exasperation with the Putrajaya regime is high, but the lack of a viable alternative is the main reason behind the apathy being shown towards political parties right now. If Mahathir wants to go into GE14 with strength, he and Bersatu will have to work hard to overcome that apathy by bringing in names that raise the stakes. And one wonders how many favours the old doctor is still owed.