Most avid political watchers in Malaysia would have recently received a purported list of Perikatan Nasional's candidates for the next parliamentary election.
The 13-page PDF file, marked "sulit" (confidential) and authored by one "KGE", names 194 "PN candidates" sans Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
The "list" was accompanied by notes outlining the rationale behind certain candidacy decisions and purported outcomes of inter-party negotiations.
Top Umno and PAS leaders contacted by Malaysiakini have dismissed the document as fake and are probably right. The first half of this article would explain why.
They told Malaysiakini that the "list" was fictional since negotiations between the three parties have not taken place.
Umno and PAS are in a formal alliance known as Muafakat Nasional, which in turn is currently allied with Bersatu. Collectively, they formed the PN government in March.
Upon closer inspection, the fake "list" would sound less preposterous if it was seen as a proposal from Bersatu's perspective. This angle would be explored in the latter half of the article.
However, since Malaysiakini believes the "list" to be fake, it would not be reproduced in this article to discourage its spread.
Umno's 'numbers' don't make sense
The biggest red flag signalling the improbability of this "list" is the fact that Umno would only be granted the right to field candidates in 64 seats while its splinter party Bersatu and PAS would be allocated 54 and 31 seats respectively.
If the "list" is true, it would mean that Umno - arguably the richest and biggest party in the country in terms of membership - would only be fielding half the number of candidates it did in 2018.
During the last election, Umno fielded 120 candidates for Parliament, with 54 winners. As for Bersatu, it fielded 52 candidates, of which 13 won while PAS fielded 154 and won 18.
Another fact which makes the "list" improbable is the suggestion that a large number of senior Umno members, including its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, would be dropped as candidates.
These include sitting MPs who won their seats with comfortable majorities such as Najib Abdul Razak (Pekan), Nazri Abdul Aziz (Padang Rengas), Idris Jusoh (Besut), Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (Pasir Salak), Mahdzir Khalid (Padang Terap), Ismail Muttalib (Maran), Ismail Mohamed Said (Kuala Krau) and Azalina Said Othman (Penggerang).
According to the "list", three Umno MPs who relinquished their seats would be granted the "Tun" title, a promise which would be hard to keep, given that the cap of 25 titleholders had already been reached at the time of writing.
A Bersatu wish list?
What is difficult to ignore in the "list" is that it appeared to favour Bersatu which has far less proven support compared to Umno based on the 2018 election.
The "list" suggested that Umno would have to make way for other parties - mostly Bersatu - in 20 constituencies it won in the previous polls.
This included seats which Umno won with more than 50 percent of the votes cast in 2018 such as Beluran, Mersing, Masjid Tanah, Putrajaya, Rompin and Jeli, which by conventional wisdom meant the party would likely retain these constituencies without having to cede it to Bersatu.
In contrast, the "list" suggested that Bersatu had to cede only three seats it won in 2018 - Kubang Pasu, Muar and Simpang Renggam - to Umno.
Moreover, the "list" suggested that Umno is not seeking the return of most seats which it lost to Bersatu in a series of defections between 2018 and 2019.
These seats are Jeli, Bagan Serai, Bukit Gantang, Masjid Tanah, Beluran, Tanah Merah, Hulu Terengganu, Larut, Sabak Bernam, Mersing, Kudat, Beufort, Libaran and Sipitang.
With such a lopsided deal, the "list" appeared more like a Bersatu wish list rather than a bona fide PN candidate list.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that the "list" is fake. However, what could be gleaned from the "list" are some factors which might be taken into consideration as PN's seat negotiations progress.
Currently, there are two main blocs which make up 80 percent of the PN federal government - Muafakat Nasional (Umno and PAS) which has 59 seats and Bersatu which has 32 seats.
On paper, Umno, PAS and Bersatu are all vying for the same constituents - Malay Muslims - but the fake "list" took a regional approach to seat distribution.
The fake "list" suggests that Umno would be allocated more seats in Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Pahang while Bersatu is allocated more seats in Perak, Selangor and Sabah. PAS seats were mostly concentrated in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.
The fake "list" also appeared to have taken into account seats which Umno won with less than 50 percent of the vote share as the basis for ceding 14 seats, mostly to Bersatu.
Umno, PAS and Bersatu faced off against each other during the 2018 election, leading to many candidates winning without a clear majority.
In closing, there is no reason for Umno to make such "generous" concessions, which could potentially irk its grassroots pining for the return of a powerful Umno and limiting its chances of maximising its electoral successes.
However, the fake "list" does help illustrate the complicated dynamics between Umno, PAS and Bersatu as the three parties move towards the next general election, assuming that the PN coalition holds until then.