COMMENTARY, Aug 30 — The 15th general election is set to be held by December at the latest, leaving political parties scrambling to prepare for the biggest battle in the country’s history.
This time, the arena is free-for-all, with analysts and political leaders assuming no individual party can garner a simple majority to form the government.
The rush comes after Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, or popularly called Mat Hassan, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob committed during the party’s supreme council meeting on Sunday that the general election would be held before end of the year.
Since then, political parties have scrambled to ally with one another, to give them better chances to form the government.
Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) is said to have prepared for the battle since early this year, after the coalition scored victories in five by-elections and two state elections the past two years, the last being Johor.
BN pushed for an early election immediately after a handsome victory in Johor last March, hoping to ride the momentum. Ismail Sabri ignored the call, probably preferring to perform better and improve the economy more.
While Ismail Sabri’s intention was commendable, Umno’s contention was Ismail Sabri would be able to perform better and more effectively if he did not have to cater to other parties in the government such as those from Perikatan Nasional.
Umno also wanted to take advantage of the Opposition disarray and shock following the results of the Melaka and Johor elections when even DAP lost ground.
Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had been treated as BN rallying point as he led the ground campaign in those state elections.
Najib will be absent from this general election campaign but BN is still seen to be strong.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, have a lot to do as each party must form alliances to defeat BN, which has recovered since losing the 2018 general election.
These include Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) that is desperate for alliances with any party to remain relevant and, most importantly, survive after the election, as it has no grassroots to rebuild from if it were to perform poorly.
The party was formed in 2016 by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with the aim of eliminating Umno and replacing it as the sole party championing the Malays.
It succeeded in defeating Umno as part of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in 2018, but did not continue to expand its influence with the Malay voters in Malay-based constituencies.
In 2020, Dr Mahathir quit as prime minister and the PH government collapsed. Bersatu led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin formed Perikatan Nasional (PN) to take over the government.
Muhyiddin quit in July last year and Ismail Sabri, an Umno vice-president, replaced him as prime minister.
For Dr Mahathir, his new Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) faces the same dilemma as Bersatu but has acted fast by roping in Malay-based NGOs as partners to face the general election.
Bersatu has only PAS to depend on, after the Islamist party cut ties with Umno in the unregistered Muafakat Nasional (MN), but this was not enough in the Melaka and Johor state elections.
With time ticking away, DAP and PKR look prepared for the general election.
These parties may also benefit from the around five million Undi18 voters but how this group will vote is still unknown.