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Tough for opposition to unite against BN ahead of GE15

The state of the opposition at the next polls could be a far cry from the unity shown by forces opposed to Najib Razak during the 14th general election.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
A motorcyclist holds up a peace sign as he makes his way past an array of party flags put up at Kampung Melayu Majidee ahead of the Johor state election on March 12.
A motorcyclist holds up a peace sign as he makes his way past an array of party flags put up at Kampung Melayu Majidee ahead of the Johor state election on March 12.

News of a meeting between Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin and Pejuang chief Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently turned into a he said, she said affair with both leaders providing conflicting accounts of how it came about.

Mahathir, who confirmed the meeting at a press conference on April 1, said Muhyiddin had come to ask for his support.

Muhyiddin meanwhile said that the meeting had been arranged by a Pejuang leader as part of a larger initiative towards an alliance ahead of the 15th general election (GE15).

The meeting came on the heels of the recent elections in Johor and Melaka where conflict and divisions within the opposition camp were given credit for handing Barisan Nasional (BN) an easy victory.

At both elections, BN, helmed by its lynchpin party Umno, was able to win a two-thirds majority despite the low voter turnout.

The results underscored the urgency of establishing an understanding among opposition parties, including those which had once worked together under Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Analyst Kartini Aboo Talib however said that many major political figures still appeared to be playing tug-of-war.

“Everyone knows that political parties in Malaysia cannot go solo,” Kartini of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said.

“They need to achieve a consensus and agree to share power due to the many ethnicities and race-based parties that give rise to the need for a coalition.”

Citing the major coalitions of BN, PH and PN, alongside others such as Muafakat Nasional, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Bersatu Sabah, he said they were all the direct result of the politics of consensus.

“Come GE15, many leaders will begin arranging strategies of cooperation with other parties,” he added.

For now, Kartini said, it was still unclear which groups would come together to challenge BN.

“What is certain at the central level is that PAS, Umno and Bersatu will not work together unless new negotiations take place and they are ready to compromise on the arrangement of seats for candidates,” he said.

“But from what I see, Umno and BN want to move only within their coalition.”

DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng had also rejected any cooperation with PN for GE15.

Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya said it would be difficult for the opposition groups to establish an alliance for the election as they were still suspicious of each other.

He also spoke of the lingering effects of Mahathir’s resignation as prime minister in 2020 and the Sheraton Move which saw the collapse of the PH administration.

These events also witnessed the rise of PN and the formation of splinter parties such as Pejuang and Muda, which meant a split in support for PH.

“They were severely traumatised,” Awang Azman said. “PH was very much weakened, as was evident at the state elections in Melaka, Sarawak and Johor.”

For him, one obvious alliance would be between Pejuang and Sabah-based party Warisan, led by Shafie Apdal.

He said PN wanted only Bersatu and PAS as its main players while GPS would likely distance itself from the coalition once Parliament is dissolved.

“If this continues, the opposition will remain weak,” he added.

BN, which banks on its influential election machinery, had benefited from the low voter turnout in Melaka and Johor.

But Kartini cautioned that general elections differ from elections at the state level as the latter are hinged on local issues.

“General elections involve issues at the federal level which have a different impact,” he said.

“BN might find itself faced with different challenges once the country enters the endemic phase and voters are more confident about heading to the ballot box.”