Where does Perikatan go from here?

Kenneth Cheng Chee Kin

Perikatan Nasional fortunes look to have most likely declined after hitting their peak with no electoral success to speak of. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, October 15, 2023.

WHILE Perikatan Nasional (PN) may be the first choice of Malays, winning is what matters in realpolitik. The coalition’s recent by-election losses have dealt it a bruising blow that leaves it with no recourse but to peddle another “Sheraton Move”.

And if history is any indication, PN’s fortunes have most likely declined after hitting their peak with no electoral success to speak of. 

Historically, the opposition usually looks to be the most threatening to the government when it can instil a national belief that it is on the cusp of capturing power. At such a time, the rank-and-file is energised and persuasive while the discontented centre, dissatisfied with the incumbent government, will be motivated to throw a ballot the opposition’s way, making a change of administration a distinct possibility.

However, this surge in opposition support often wanes when its promises prove too ambitious, leading to political fatigue and internal discord due to irreconcilable differences.

Pakatan Rakyat arguably reached its zenith of popularity during the 2013 national polls even though it didn’t win power. Winning the popular vote for the first time should have sustained the coalition led by PKR, DAP, and PAS until the next general election. However, the initial passion for a change of government could not endure another five years, and the common purpose of unseating the incumbent gave way to ideological differences between DAP and PAS.

PN, primarily led by Bersatu and PAS, now faces similar challenges. There are already signs of discord, with Bersatu publicly expressing its displeasure over being awarded only three executive council positions in the Kedah government. There is also dissatisfaction with Bersatu’s role as the senior partner in the coalition when PAS had won the majority of seats in recent state elections.

This has created the impression that Bersatu is piggybacking on PAS’ success. While Bersatu may have initially acted as a moderate counterbalance to PAS’s religious agenda, it seems to have abandoned this role by focusing on racial and religious issues.

Rather than PAS becoming more like Bersatu, the reverse is happening, further solidifying the perception that PAS is the de facto leader of PN. This does not bode well for PN’s future, especially for Bersatu.

If Bersatu continues on its current political trajectory, the party most capable of replacing Umno could face assimilation or dissolution. The time will come when PAS starts asking difficult questions of its coalition partner, especially if there is no prospect of ousting PH and BN in the near term.

If PAS and DAP’s marriage was always strained due to ideological differences, the coexistence of PAS and Bersatu is likely to be equally challenging due to their similarities. If both parties are vying to stoke issues related to race and religion to garner support, Bersatu’s existence as a political party may become questionable if it fails to distinguish itself from PAS.

While PH faced its fair share of internal issues while in opposition, the coalition remained relatively stable because DAP could not replace PKR as the senior partner without a viable prime ministerial candidate.

The existential problem within PN is more significant, as given the rise of PAS and its considerable support, the notion of a PAS prime minister is no longer as unthinkable as it was a decade ago. Bersatu’s position could further weaken if it loses Muhyiddin Yassin, its only viable prime ministerial candidate.

The race and religion game ultimately benefits PAS at the expense of Bersatu, and Bersatu can only keep PAS at bay by expanding its appeal beyond traditional PAS strongholds.

To secure victory in the next general election and ensure its survival, Bersatu must figure out how to win the support of non-Malays. – October 15, 2023.

* Kenneth Cheng has always been interested in the interplay between human rights and government but more importantly he is a father of two cats, Tangyuan and Toufu. When he is not attending to his feline matters, he is most likely reading books about politics and human rights or playing video games. He is a firm believer in the dictum “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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