Polls not remedy to political instability if Malay parties still at loggerheads, say analysts

R. Loheswar
·5-min read
Ahmad Fauzi said the political awakening since the 14th general election, along with the technological advances in communications, meant the country’s democracy would grow more diverse. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Ahmad Fauzi said the political awakening since the 14th general election, along with the technological advances in communications, meant the country’s democracy would grow more diverse. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 — Another general election will do nothing for Malaysia's political stability unless a stable alliance of the major Malay political parties emerges, according to analysts.

As the country is set to enter the next general election with Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia on opposite sides, they said neither will be able to win enough seats to secure a victory and must consequently cobble together an alliance to govern the country.

Effectively, this would leave Malaysia in the same predicament as today, in which the ruling Perikatan Nasional was threatened daily by the withdrawal of support that would cause it to collapse.

According to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan, the only foreseeable way to avoid Malaysia from repeatedly being forced to the ballot box was for the Malay parties to formalise their alliances now.

He said unless there was an official and binding agreement to replace the informal cooperation used to keep PN intact, the next general election will mean the same chaos as exists now, regardless of which party gains more seats.

“If they form the government after GE15 it’ll be back to square one,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

Matters were made worse by the analysts’ prediction that the eventual winner would be one consisting of Umno or Bersatu, as they did not believe Pakatan Harapan in its current state would be able to repeat its unlikely victory from the 2018 general election.

Short of this, however, political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said Malaysians must simply grow accustomed to regular political upheavals until the parties come to grips with the “new normal of politics” stemming from Barisan Nasional’s 2018 defeat.

Until 2018, BN had governed Malaysia in one guise or another for over six decades. In the two years since then, the country has already had two governments and two prime ministers.

Ahmad Fauzi said the political awakening since the 14th general election, along with the technological advances in communications, meant the country’s democracy would grow more diverse, which would make it difficult for any single party to ever grow dominant again.

He explained that having a minority party in control should be something the country must be used to and for political parties to also understand that bipartisanship will be needed to keep the next government of the day intact for its full term.

Citing the withdrawal of support for PN by three senior Umno lawmakers, Ahmad Fauzi said this was just the characteristic of “fluid” coalition politics where no single party can govern without the cooperation of its possibly diverse allies.

“With greater political literacy via educational advancements and the ICT (information and communications technology) revolution, the tendency towards more pluralistic political choices is to be expected.

“If you call this 'maturing,' then so be it. Malaysians have to get used to having relatively weak coalition governments at both federal and state levels,” he said.

Until it becomes clear whether Bersatu or Umno will surpass the other, the analysts said the beneficiary would be Islamist party PAS whose immediate loyalties were not yet clear.

While Umno and the offshoot Bersatu have fallen out publicly, PAS maintains ties with both via Muafakat Nasional with the first and PN with the second. It has also continued urging both to set aside their differences in the interest of preserving Malay political power.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Dr Oh Ei Sun said whichever party that is able to secure PAS’s commitment would have a massive advantage.

Oh said a PAS-Bersatu partnership would likely end in a continuation of the current instability whereas a PAS-Umno alliance would return the Malay nationalist party to power and allow it to force its will on Bersatu.

As the others, however, Oh also believed the matter was moot unless Umno and Bersatu could co-exist on the same side.

”After all the main political drama now is not between the Opposition and the government, it’s basically between Umno and Bersatu.”

With an Emergency in effect over Malaysia until August 1, a general election will not be held until this is lifted but Muhyiddin has pledged to call one as soon as the Covid-19 was considered over.

Before then, however, Azmi predicted that the warring Malay parties would come to their senses and accept their interdependence.

“It's for their own political survival,” he said.

After the open rejection of Muhyiddin by three Umno lawmakers, his administration appears to have lost the majority support in Parliament needed to remain the government of the day.

However, the beleaguered PM was able to convince the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to proclaim an Emergency lasting until August 1.

Muhyiddin said all federal and state legislatures were suspended until then and no elections need be held in the country over the same period but has pledged to call a general election immediately after the Emergency is lifted.

PN came to power after the PH government collapsed following Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unforced resignation in February 2020, but was believed to have then commanded only the minimum 112-seat majority needed to be the government of the day.

The withdrawal of support by the three Umno lawmakers would have brought it below this threshold but this must still be demonstrated in Parliament via a vote of no confidence.

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