KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is speculated to be again gunning for almost a quarter or 50 of the 222 parliamentary seats in the 15th general election (GE15), but what are its options and where could these seats be located?
Back in 2018, Bersatu — which was the youngest party in Pakatan Harapan (PH) as it was not even two years old — under its founder Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was given the chance by its allies to contest in a sizeable 52 out of the 222 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the 14th general election (GE14).
Here’s a state-by-state look at how Bersatu fared in the contest for the 52 seats in GE14 in 2018 as it engaged in multi-cornered fights against Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS in 50 of these seats. We also examine the current status after Bersatu’s exit from PH and its new partnership with Umno and PAS in the current ruling coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN), based on the latest information drawn from the Dewan Rakyat’s website.
We will also look at a back-of-the-envelope estimate of what seats Bersatu might want to demand in the event of seat negotiations with its former foes-turned-allies Umno and PAS for GE15, based on past election results especially in GE14. (There could however be numerous other factors to be considered in such seat talks, including changes in the political landscape with Bersatu no longer able to rely on the strong anti-BN sentiment then, candidate choices including incumbents and the risk of using defectors and past voting trends. Newcomer Bersatu may also face difficulties in asserting its winning potential after quitting the PH platform upon which they were voted in on. Arguably, its maiden experience in GE14 is insufficient as a baseline to show how it may perform in the uncharted waters of GE15.)
But the list below may turn out to be more of a wishlist as Barisan Nasional secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa had recently said that the coalition intends to defend all its traditional seats regardless of those it had won in GE14 or previous elections. Umno leaders have argued, for example, that the Mersing seat in Johor — which is now held by Bersatu after the winning candidate left Umno — still belongs to Umno.
Bersatu only contested in two of the three parliamentary seats in Perlis, emerging as first runner-up in the three-cornered fights with Umno and PAS.
Umno’s Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin beat Bersatu by 1,438 votes for the Padang Besar seat, while Umno’s former Perlis mentri besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim defeated Bersatu by 4,856 votes for the Arau seat.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero
What GE15 might look like: Since the three parties are all in the same camp now, arguably only one party should put up a candidate. Bersatu may want to contest these two seats again as it would have higher chances of winning without multi-cornered fights, but it remains to be seen if it has to give way to Umno for two-time incumbent Padang Besar MP Zahidi and four-time incumbent Arau MP Shahidan.
Out of the 15 seats available in Kedah, Bersatu contested six seats and won three — namely Dr Mahathir (Langkawi), Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir (Jerlun) and Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah (Kubang Pasu) with comfortable majorities exceeding 8,800, more than 5,800, and more than 13,000 votes respectively despite being engaged in a three-cornered fight. Bersatu came in third in the three-cornered fights for the other seats Jerai and Baling and also third in the four-cornered fight in Pendang, with either PAS or Umno winning.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Three.
Current status for Bersatu: Zero, since Bersatu insists it has terminated the three MPs’ memberships. The three including Dr Mahathir have however argued that they are still Bersatu members.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could mount a challenge against the three under Dr Mahathir’s faction, but could face an uphill challenge if the latter three decide to defend the seats in their home state of Kedah. With a respectable showing in Jerai previously with votes split almost equally among Umno, PAS and Bersatu, Bersatu may want to try its luck here again in a straight fight with the Opposition. Baling and Pendang may look like less obvious choices for Bersatu to insist on, due to its weaker performance compared to PAS.
Out of the 14 seats available in Kelantan, Bersatu won zero of the seven seats it contested as it trailed far behind in votes, with the competition clearly between only PAS and Umno. Three were won by PAS (Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi - Tumpat, Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Aziz - Bachok, Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh - Pasir Putih), while four were won by Umno (Tan Sri Annuar Musa - Ketereh, Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub - Machang, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed - Jeli, Tengku Razaleigh Tengku Hamzah - Gua Musang).
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero
Current status for Bersatu: Two. Based on Parliament’s website, two of the MPs who were with Umno switched parties to Bersatu after winning their seats in GE14 (Jeli MP Mustapa and Tanah Merah MP Datuk Seri Ikmal Hashim Abdul Aziz).
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could choose to contest the two seats currently held by its new party members while leaving the rest of the seats it had previously contested to its new allies PAS and Umno — which include some Umno heavyweights that won despite the general sentiment in the 2018 elections against Umno in PAS stronghold Kelantan.
Out of the eight seats available in the state, Bersatu won zero of the three seats it contested, again emerging the last in all three-cornered fights with PAS and Umno. Umno won two of these seats (Besut - Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, Hulu Terengganu - Datuk Rosol Wahid), while PAS won the remaining one (Setiu - Shaharizukirnain Abd Kadir).
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero
Current status for Bersatu: One. As Rosol switched from Umno to Bersatu.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could choose to defend the seat that its new party member holds and leave the other seats to its allies in the PAS-dominant state, as its lacklustre performance in GE14 here would not be a convincing argument for it to contest more seats.
Out of the 13 seats in Penang, Bersatu contested only one seat here (Tasek Gelugor) via Datuk Marzuki Yahya, but put up a real fight despite a three-cornered fight to be just 81 votes away from matching the Umno victor Datuk Shahbudin Yahaya’s votes of 18,547.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): Two. Shahbudin joined Bersatu, Nibong Tebal MP Datuk Mansor Othman was one of 11 MPs who left PKR and had reportedly joined Bersatu during the political crisis in February.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could feasibly defend the seats it holds via two-time incumbents Shahbudin and Mansor. Most of the seats in Penang appear to be safely in PH’s hands based on GE14 results, but Bersatu could gun for the PKR-held Balik Pulau seat by touting its GE14 win of one of two state constituencies in Balik Pulau (Teluk Bahang). It might be difficult for Bersatu to ask for the Kepala Batas seat held by two-time incumbent from Umno, Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, as he did fairly well in defending the seat against Parti Amanah Negara and PAS.
Out of 24 seats in Perak, Bersatu engaged in three-cornered fights in eight seats, losing in seven seats to Umno and Barisan Nasional while only winning one via current Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu for the Tambun seat.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: One. The seats lost include Gerik to Datuk Hasbullah Osman, Lenggong to third-time winner Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, Tapah to third-time winner MIC deputy president Datuk Seri M. Saravanan, Pasir Salak to third-time winner Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
Current status for Bersatu: Four. As three from Umno had moved to Bersatu after winning and despite having beaten the party in the polls: third-term Larut MP and current Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin, second-term Bagan Serai MP Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, and the latest addition Bukit Gantang MP Datuk Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could choose to defend the four seats it has now, while leaving the seats it had lost to be defended by its now-allies as some of them have incumbency advantage there.
Although Kuala Kangsar is held by a two-time Umno incumbent, the narrow 2018 majority of 731 votes in a three-cornered fight may entice Bersatu to demand to contest in this Malay-majority seat. Similarly, Bersatu could also gun for the traditional MIC-held seat Tapah despite the mixed racial composition and Saravanan’s incumbency, due to his thin majority of just 614 votes.
Bersatu could also demand for Malay-majority seats Parit Buntar and Lumut held by Parti Amanah Negara MPs where the latter two won by a majority of 3,098 and 400 votes respectively in three-cornered fights, if it sees a chance of winning in straight fights there.
Out of 14 seats in the state, Bersatu lost to Umno in all six seats contested in three-cornered fights, including to then Umno president and long-standing Pekan MP Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The five other seats that Bersatu failed to win were Lipis, Jerantut, Paya Besar, Maran and Kuala Krau.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): One. Indera Mahkota MP Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah left PKR and reportedly joined Bersatu.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could seek to defend the sole seat it holds via new member Saifuddin, and could leave the rest to its allies due to its own relatively weak performance in the five other seats.
Malay-majority seat Temerloh which Amanah won by just a vote majority of 1,904 in a four-cornered fight may be a natural choice for Bersatu to lobby for.
In the state where PH parties have a strong grip, Bersatu was tasked with contesting three of the 22 seats available. After three-cornered fights, Bersatu’s Muslimin Yahaya became the party’s sole MP here with Sungai Besar, while Bersatu candidates lost to Umno’s long-standing incumbent Tan Sri Noh Omar for Tanjung Karang and incumbent Datuk Mohd Fasiah Mohd Fakeh for Sabak Bernam.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: One.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): Four. As the Sabak Bernam MP switched from Umno to the party Bersatu which he had defeated in the polls, while Gombak MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin parted ways with PKR and reportedly joined Bersatu.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could demand to contest in the four seats it currently holds on paper, even if some were defectors who won under different party flags.
Malay-majority seat Tanjung Karang would appear to be a feasible choice for Bersatu which lost the seat by less than 2,000 votes to Umno’s Noh Omar, but a demand for the seat could likely be met by resistance from the long-standing incumbent.
Bersatu could also demand for the Malay-majority seat Kuala Selangor currently held by Amanah’s two-time winner Dzulkefly Ahmad, as well as the Malay-majority seat of Kapar now held by PKR, and PKR-held Kuala Langat and Amanah-held Sepang where at least half of the voters are Malay, but its chances of winning would depend heavily on the absence of multi-cornered fights.
Other seats in Selangor appear to be generally out of reach for Bersatu and its allies, based on GE14 results.
9. Kuala Lumpur
Out of 11 seats which were all won by those in PH, Bersatu’s Datuk Seri Rina Harun won the Titiwangsa seat with a comfortable majority of more than 4,100 votes despite a three-cornered fight with Umno’s defending incumbent Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani and a PAS candidate who came in last.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: One.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): Two. Bandar Tun Razak MP Datuk Kamarudin Jaafar left PKR and reportedly joined Bersatu in February.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu can choose to defend the two seats it currently holds, while other seats appear safely aligned to PH based on GE14 results. Bersatu can choose to convince Umno to give up the PKR-held Malay-majority Lembah Pantai seat, but a multi-cornered fight could dent Bersatu’s chances here.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Zero. Bersatu lost in a three-cornered fight to Umno’s long-standing incumbent Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor by over 3,000 votes.
What might GE15 look like: Tengku Adnan is currently facing trial in court, but Bersatu could opt to have him continue standing for this seat due to his seniority in ally Umno.
11. Negri Sembilan
Out of eight seats in the state, Bersatu contested two seats in three-cornered fights, winning one with Datuk Eddin Syazlee Shith bagging Kuala Pilah by edging out Umno’s long-standing incumbent Datuk Seri Hasan Malek by 200 votes, while losing by 1,631 votes to Umno’s Datuk Mohd Salim Sharif for Jempol.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: One.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could choose to defend the seat it has. Bersatu could also demand for Malay-majority seats Jelebu, Jempol and Tampin, with its chances hinging on a straight fight. It could be harder for Bersatu to demand for Malay-majority seat Rembau held by Umno’s three-time incumbent Khairy Jamaluddin.
Out of six seats in the state, Bersatu contested two seats. It won one seat (Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof bagging the Alor Gajah seat) and losing in another seat it contested for (Masjid Tanah) after being locked in three-cornered fights with Umno and PAS.
GE14 haul for Bersatu: One.
Current status for Bersatu: Two. As Masjid Tanah MP Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin — which Bersatu had ironically lost to — left Umno and joined Bersatu.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu can choose to keep the status quo by contesting in the same two seats it had contested in for GE14. Bersatu could also ask its allies to give up PKR-held Malay majority seats Hang Tuah Jaya and Tangga Batu for it to contest. It could also push for the Malay-majority seat Jasin which the Umno three-time incumbent Datuk Seri Ahmad Hamzah won with a slim majority of 219 votes in a three-cornered fight, but this could be met with resistance.
Out of 26 seats in the state known as an Umno stronghold, Bersatu won half of the 10 seats it contested, picking up Pagoh (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin), Muar (Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman), Sri Gading (Datuk Shahruddin Md Salleh), Simpang Renggam (Maszlee Malik) and Tanjung Piai (Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik).
GE14 haul for Bersatu: Five.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): Seven or five, depending on whether the tally includes the duo from Dr Mahathir’s faction Syed Saddiq and Maszlee.
But officially, it should be five, as Tanjung Piai is now held by MCA’s Wee Jeck Seng after a by-election following Dr Md Farid’s death, while Mersing MP Datuk Abd Latiff Ahmad left Umno for Bersatu and two quit PKR before reportedly joining Bersatu: Batu Pahat MP Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon and Segamat MP Datuk Seri Edmund Santhara Kumar.
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could choose to contest four of the five seats it had won and leave Tanjung Piai to MCA which had won the by-election with an overwhelming majority, while also defending Mersing, Batu Pahat, Segamat held by the party newcomers. It may be better for Bersatu to give up Malay-majority seats Kota Tinggi and Pengerang which it had lost by a big margin in straight fights to Umno, but Pontian where Bersatu had lost just by over 800 votes to Umno three-time incumbent Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan in a three-cornered fight could be a feasible choice for the party to try again. Malay-majority seat Tenggara which Umno won comfortably in a three-cornered fight against Bersatu could be a less obvious choice.
New seats which Bersatu could seek to pounce on are Sekijang which PKR won with a vote majority of 1,281 in a straight fight; Ledang which PKR won comfortably with an over 8,600 vote-majority in a three-cornered fight; or ask for the Malay-majority Parit Sulong seat which Umno’s three-time incumbent won comfortably in a three-cornered fight. Bersatu may choose to not ask for Sembrong which Umno’s four-time incumbent Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein won comfortably.
14. Sabah, Sarawak
The Federal Territory of Labuan’s seat was picked up by Umno in a four-cornered fight but is now under Parti Warisan Sabah after its MP switched parties, while Bersatu did not venture into Sabah and Sarawak unlike its then partners PKR and DAP which have a longer presence there, and unlike then ally Parti Amanah Negara which dipped its toes into the Sarawak political scene.
Current status for Bersatu (on paper): Eight.
In Sabah and Sarawak where voters tend to prefer local-based parties, Bersatu on paper added six to its ranks from Sabah (Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin who left PKR in February and those who left Umno — Beluran MP Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, Kudat MP Datuk Abd Rahim Bakri, Beaufort MP Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun, Libaran MP Datuk Zakaria Mohd Edris, Sipitang MP Yamani Hafez Musa) and two from Sarawak (Saratok MP Ali Biju and Puncak Borneo MP Willie Mongin who both left PKR in February).
What might GE15 look like: Bersatu could try and ask to contest these seats it had unexpectedly picked up after GE14 through defections and switch in political allegiances, and risk betting on the same candidates or swap out some which had won with a slim majority in multi-cornered fights (Yamani Hafez who won just with a 852 vote-majority, Zakaria Mohd Edris who won with a 678 vote majority and Ali Biju who won with a 989 vote majority) while also weighing the possibilities of local voters rejecting those who had party-hopped. Alternatively, Bersatu could leave the seats to its local partners.
How the total tally looks like
Total GE14 haul for Bersatu: 13 out of 52 seats contested
Total Bersatu MPs after GE14/ February political crisis (if Dr Mahathir faction included): 37 (due to addition of 15 MPs formerly from Umno and 10 MPs formerly of PKR and minus the Tanjung Piai seat)
Total Bersatu MPs after GE14/ February political crisis (if Dr Mahathir faction omitted): 32
Total Bersatu MPs after GE14/ February political crisis (if Dr Mahathir faction omitted and without ex-PKR 10): 22.
(Former PKR leader Zuraida Kamaruddin has clarified that she and the nine other MPs who left PKR have actually yet to move into Bersatu, but are using Bersatu as their platform and labelled as being with the party in the Dewan Rakyat for “strategic reasons”. One of the 11 ex-PKR MPs, Baru Bian, did not join Bersatu but has instead joined opposition party Parti Sarawak Bersatu.)
While Bersatu would in theory have an easier path in the next elections since its natural competitors PAS and Umno being in the same camp could free them up from three-cornered fights that would split votes, it remains to be seen how the three would divide on seats to contest in as the negotiation on overlapping claims might prove tricky.
Still, Bersatu would understandably insist on contesting a sizeable number such as 50 seats to justify its position as being the party where the prime minister comes from.
Bersatu was in 2018 given the key role with its chairman and then PH chairman Dr Mahathir filling up the prime minister post, despite its relatively small haul of 13 seats compared to its then PH allies PKR and DAP which both had more than 40 seats each.
Compared to that time, the Bersatu of today again plays a crucial role with party president Muhyiddin as prime minister, but now appears to be on better footing (if the 10 ex-PKR MPs are included) by coming closer to its new ally Umno’s current 39 MP count, while outnumbering the other allies in PN in terms of MP count.