Observers admit Bersatu set to gain most from Pakatan reconciliation, but wonder if grassroots will accede

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Bersatu flags are seen during the National Congress: Unite For Malaysia event at Malaysia International Trade & Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur, August 22, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Bersatu flags are seen during the National Congress: Unite For Malaysia event at Malaysia International Trade & Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur, August 22, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 — Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will likely gain the most should a reconciliation with its former allies in Pakatan Harapan (PH) happen ahead of the 15th general election (GE15), political analysts have suggested.

The observers, however, doubted whether the grassroots, especially from PH, would agree to such a move, and thought that the attempt may benefit politicians more than it does voters.

“If PH and Bersatu came back together, the one who benefits the most will be Bersatu,” University of Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi told Malay Mail.

“This is because Bersatu is now the weakest, especially after it lost the prime minister’s position. Many have left the party, resulting in the party’s popularity decreasing, but with this new political breath, there is hope to return to form a government.”

He said reconciliation may restore support for Bersatu, as the party had seemingly lost goodwill from ethnic Chinese voters following the party’s shift of allegiance from PH which led to the coalition’s government dissolving in 2020.

Awang Azman also warned Bersatu that public sentiment against the party now is different from how it was in 2018 as back then it was fighting against the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MBD) scandal led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Mahathir is now the chairman of splinter Parti Pejuang Tanah Air which is not aligned with PH.

“It is not certain that the PH grassroots will be able to accept Bersatu back in the form of votes after there were election campaigns to tarnish DAP and PKR, especially by Bersatu,” he said.

“DAP and PKR supporters are expected to protest in the form of votes if this cooperation takes place because it is seen that Bersatu has succeeded in taking advantage of DAP and PKR, and as well as PH.”

Similarly, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Azmi Hassan said Bersatu too has a bigger obstacle to face should reconciliation happen, especially when it comes to seat allocations in the general election.

“Whether this deal can take off will only depend on who the prime minister candidate will come from, Bersatu or PKR.

“Then, their harder task ahead would be seat allocations, where Bersatu has nothing to offer, or show, with only 13 seats won in the last GE14. Against DAP and PKR, it is difficult when it comes to seat allocation,” said Azmi when contacted.

Similar to Awang Azman, the professor also warned of protest votes, as PH supporters view Bersatu with animosity for its role in the PH government’s downfall.

“This is evident in the recent Melaka by-election, how bad PKR did and in Johor as well, PN did badly,” he said.

Azmi added that if Bersatu is planning on placing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as its poster boy come GE15, it might not work well for the party.

“During GE14, Bersatu didn’t do very well, and they won also due to PH’s support. This shows that Muhyiddin, while he is a big name, is not able to secure much support in Johor,” he said.

Meanwhile, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said only the politicians will benefit from such a move if they win the election from it, rather than the voters themselves.

“The people won’t [benefit from it]. Politicians will come up with all sorts of formulas to hoodwink voters by forming winnable coalitions that operate based on pragmatism and selfish interests rather than concern for the masses and national interests.

“Epitomising this despicable trend are Bersatu, and to a lesser extent some PH politicians ever prepared to sacrifice principles, going to the extent of announcing their readiness to sleep with the enemy, in order to secure victory at the polls,” he said.

“With 39 MPs having hopped from one party to another since GE14 in 2018, fragile coalition building and unstable governments won’t stop at GE15 without an anti-hopping law of any sort,” Ahmad Fauzi added.

He added that even if this worked out, the new coalition may still face the same problems it did that led to Bersatu’s exit from PH.

“Being built on political expediency, the new alliance won’t hold when selfish interests remain unfulfilled for example if post-election Cabinet negotiations fall apart), what more if PH figures remain steadfast to its reformist principles,” he said.

This comes as PH secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said last Friday that the Opposition coalition is prepared to negotiate and discuss with any political party about cooperation in the upcoming GE15.

He was responding to a statement by Parti Amanah Negara deputy president Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub who urged the PH leadership to be open to holding discussions with all Opposition bloc parties ahead of GE15.

DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said, however, that the issue of cooperation between PH and Perikatan Nasional (PN), of which Bersatu is a lynchpin component, should not arise as PN is still a part of the government bloc.

Following this, Bersatu said it is ready to cooperate with any political party to ensure straight fights against Barisan Nasional, with president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin saying the party is currently in the initial stage of discussions to offer a ‘win-win’ formula to achieve that objective.

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