Will Umno win the bet?

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With the Dewan Rakyat Speaker’s decision to shelve the debate on the controversial RUU355 bill, things have become topsy-turvy again in La La Land, and the onset of another silly season can only be an indicator of a looming general election.

Umno’s backing for the bill is something of a gamble. It could cause its Barisan Nasional partners to lose seats while strengthening support for itself in the rural heartlands. In a way, it confirms that Umno has moved from being just an ethno-nationalist party to being a religiously fundamentalist one as well and, to go by what we’ve been hearing lately, there will undoubtedly be some quarters burnishing Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Islamist credentials to a clearer shine.

It looks like Umno and PAS have become inextricably linked to each other. PAS’s silence in the face of Pandikar Amin’s decision seems to confirm the speculation that the tabling of the bill was a move to strengthen support for both parties before GE14.

The situation as a whole, however, is quite complex. In trying to shore up Malay support for itself, Umno risks losing the support of voters in Sabah and Sarawak, given that both states are not likely to accept increased power for the shariah courts.

The risk-reward factor of the PAS bill is indeed nebulous in East Malaysia, especially in Sarawak, as the unifying factor of Adenan Satem is no longer in play and his successor is still trying to find his feet.

Additionally, we must account for the changing of the times. The opposition parties have made much of voter registration. If large numbers of the millennials do sign up, BN may no longer be able to depend on its treasured demographic splits. While the young are in general not a voting demographic, they remain sceptical about the government and may give the opposition one last chance to prove its worth.

GE14 in many ways will be a landmark moment in Malaysian politics. Former PM Mahathir Mohamad now stands with the opposition, Malay voters have more choices today than at any time in our history, our accelerated economic development is being paid for by China, and BN’s component parties on the peninsula have been defanged, largely by Umno itself.

There is certainly a sense that GE14 will be a battle that is quite unlike previous elections, but still, all indications so far point to BN winning again.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

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