Analysts: By predicting a win for Pakatan, Dr Mahathir using reverse psychology to galvanise fragmented Malay support for Perikatan in KKB

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent statement predicting Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) loss in the upcoming Kuala Kubu Baru polls is a mere “trick” to gather Malay support to stave off a perceived threat, analysts said.

Speaking to Malay Mail, several analysts polled said that voting in Kuala Kubu Baru is anticipated to remain along racial and party affiliations, which are the two factors with the greatest influence over Malaysian voters.

“I think Chinese voters, totally, nearly 100 per cent, are solid with Pakatan Harapan (PH). So Dr Mahathir is trying to play with these types of sentiments. Call it a race sentiment, yes, it is a race sentiment. He said Chinese voters are all in one team, no split, but Malay voters are split in two. He is just trying to play up the issue so that Malay voters will band together, and vote in one bloc, which is to vote for PN, where Bersatu is, with its Malay candidate.

“But again, I think the scenario playing out in Kuala Kubu Baru is basically a national scenario. Race plays a very important role here, and most voters, not only Malay voters, but also Chinese voters, will vote according to race, which they are comfortable with,” Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said.

In the state elections last year, the candidates for Kuala Kubu Baru were the late Lee Kee Hiong from DAP, Gerakan’s Teoh Kien Hong, Malaysian United Democratic Alliance’s (Muda) Siva Prakash Ramasamy and Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s Chng Boon Lai. The seat fell vacant following Lee’s death from cancer in March.

Even in the last five state elections, the Kuala Kubu Baru constituency saw only one Malay candidate, which was PAS’ Naharudin Abdul Rashid back in 2018, who gained the least number of votes on polling day then.

PH has since announced Pang Sock Tao, the press secretary of Housing and Local Government Minister Nga Kor Ming, as its candidate. In response, PN announced a Malay candidate the following day: Hulu Selangor Bersatu acting division chief Khairul Azhari Saut.

Last week, Dr Mahathir reportedly predicted DAP’s triumph at the ballot box on May 11, because of the split Malay vote. He added that the emergence of Malay-based splinter parties has fragmented the Malay vote in the country.

“Even though there are more Malay voters in the constituency than Chinese, the Malays are divided while the Chinese are united. So DAP will possibly win,” he told reporters during Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia’s (Putra) Hari Raya Aidilfitri open house.

Syaza Syukri, a political analyst at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), also shared Azmi’s perspective, labelling Dr Mahathir’s statement as a fear-mongering tactic.

“I think this is typical of Dr Mahathir who is still trying to put in people’s heads the need for the Malays to be united. In a way, it plays into PN’s agenda as well, which is that the Malays must be united to be strong again. Again, I think this is typical fear-mongering. He is using reverse psychology. By predicting a DAP win, he is indirectly warning of the danger when Malays are divided.

“I think looking at trends, we can safely assume that the majority of Malays will vote for PN. It is not a very equal split, I think. So it will have little impact in Kuala Kubu Baru. The Malays were never united. PAS has been in the political scene since 1952. How can we claim the Malays are united? The strength of Umno is due to the strongman nature of leadership then, not so much unity. Yes, now Malays have more parties to choose from, with the implication that parties must genuinely win over the Malays,” she added.

Syaza concurred that ultimately, this by-election will see Malay and Chinese voters voting along racial lines.

“To be honest, we don’t expect much from the independent candidate and the Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) candidate. It is just a façade of democratic choice.

“It really is a ‘Chinese vs Malay’ by-election. We can assume that a majority of the 30 per cent Chinese electorate will vote for DAP, giving the unity government at least one-third of votes already.

“But whatever the result, I believe we will continue to see Malaysian politics polarised by race and ethnicity, unfortunately,” Syaza added.

The Kuala Kubu Baru by-election will see a four-cornered fight among PH, PN, PRM and an independent candidate. Pang Sock Tao (PH) will be competing against Khairul Azhari Saut (PN), who was the former Selangor Bersatu acting division chief, Hafizah Zainudin (PRM) and Nyau Ke Xin (independent).

Senior researcher at think tank, O2, Anis Anwar Suhaimi, said that Dr Mahathir’s remarks about the emergence of Malay-based splinter parties highlight a significant factor contributing to the electoral dynamics within Kuala Kubu Baru.

Echoing Azmi and Syaza, Anis highlighted the current state of Malay political unity, which he said is “notably fragmented” compared to the eras when Barisan Nasional (BN) could confidently command a two-thirds majority in the government.

He added that while recent developments have shown some coalescence of Malay votes around issues and during brief periods, such as the formation of Muafakat Nasional (MN), these, however, have not prompted lasting unity.

“The discomfort among Malay voters regarding how the unity government manages ethnic relations and recent incidents affecting these relations reveals an ongoing volatility in Malay political sentiment. Additionally, the perceived lack of strong, unifying Malay leadership akin to early Umno stalwarts further complicates the potential for cohesive Malay voter behaviour.

“Dr Mahathir’s prediction of a PH victory serves as a form of reverse psychology, aiming to galvanise Malay voters by instilling a sense of urgency to unite against a common adversary.

“His recent comments about the prospects of PH in the Kuala Kubu Baru by-election reflect a complex interplay of political realism and strategic manoeuvring. By pointing out the fragmentation of the Malay vote, Dr Mahathir not only acknowledges a reality that has partially resulted from the splintering movements within Malay political circles, which he himself has influenced; he also engages in a tactical ploy characteristic of his political style,” Anis added.

He said that for PN, the challenge is now twofold: the coalition must not only solidify Malay votes, but also convince the Umno voter base, and appeal to a sufficient segment of non-Malay voters to secure a victory.

This, Anis said, requires a nuanced campaign that balances nationalistic and ethnic-specific appeals without alienating the broader electorate.

“On the other hand, PH faces the critical task of mobilising its traditionally stronger non-Malay voter turnout, particularly the Chinese, whose cohesive voting behaviour could decisively tilt the scales in its favour.

“Furthermore, PH needs to make significant inroads into the Umno voter base, convincing them of the benefits of the unity government and the efficacy of a DAP-led candidacy.

“This involves addressing Malay concerns directly and demonstrating a commitment to issues pertinent to the Malay community, when the series of events relating to ethnic relations were disheartening Malay voters,” Anis added.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) professor Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid said that Dr Mahathir’s statement on PN’s slim chances on May 11 might be based on the current trend of some Malays supporting DAP.

“Modern liberal or socialist Malays have little concern about identity and assume that they are equally matched in socio-economic aspects with the Chinese.

“In fact, in Kuala Kubu Baru, the voter population is 50 per cent Malay and 48 per cent non-Malay. With a slight percentage of Malays that are pro-DAP, Kuala Kubu Baru will remain with PH.

“The Chinese are united because they always view themselves as the minority. But they are dominant in the economy. The economic advantages enjoyed since the colonial era now grant them tremendous leverage to choose the alliance.

“Now that it has more seats in Parliament, making a pact with DAP seems inevitable. This is the new dynamic of manoeuvring the Malaysian Malaysia Agenda that moulds the Madani principle championed by the prime minister,” Kartini told Malay Mail.

Kartini, however, cautioned PH against overconfidence, citing discomfort among the Malays following issues such as the categorisation of bak kut teh as national cuisine, the proposal to seek Unesco World Heritage status for seven of Selangor’s Chinese New Villages, and the perceived interference in Islamic and cultural matters.

“These sentiments open an opportunity for PN to offer a different narrative of unity,” she added.