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Analysts see tough road for PH in winning over fence sitters

However, they say multi-cornered fights will benefit the opposition pact as it attempts to challenge BN for the Malay vote.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
An old man ride his bicycle beneath strings of Pakatan Harapan flags at the Portuguese Settlement in Melaka ahead of the state election last November.
An old man ride his bicycle beneath strings of Pakatan Harapan flags at the Portuguese Settlement in Melaka ahead of the state election last November.

Analysts caution that Pakatan Harapan (PH) will find it difficult to achieve its goal of winning over 30% of some 60% of voters estimated to be on the fence to retake Putrajaya at the 15th general election, although it might have an edge due to splits in the Malay vote.

Rafizi Ramli, deputy president of PH's lynchpin party PKR, recently said that multiway contests would not necessarily hurt the pact, but that it would need to gain the support of those on the fence in order to form the government. 

But Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said PH would need to win the support of a large chunk of these voters or risk the same defeat it experienced at the Johor and Melaka state elections. 

"The challenge for PH is how to get the support of the Undi 18 group and the fence-sitters," he said. 

He added that Rafizi's confidence appeared high given the general lethargy of voters since the Covid-19 pandemic which he attributed to fatigue over political issues and the behaviour of politicians. 

He also cited the rapid change of government which saw the installation of three prime ministers in the four years since the last general election. 

"If PH can win over 30% of the voters on the fence, that, to me, would be an extraordinary feat," he told MalaysiaNow. 

Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said while Rafizi had the advantage of conducting surveys to predict voter patterns, questions remained over his method of sampling. 

"Rafizi may have data from his observations and surveys, but he must be transparent about his methods and sampling before making targets for GE15," she said. 

BN support stagnant

While Barisan Nasional (BN) won by a landslide at both the Melaka and Johor state polls, there was no increase in the total percentage of BN voters, lending some hope to PH for GE15. 

The percentage of voters by constituency also remained within the same range of support.  

Kartini however warned that the GE15 results might differ from those of the 2018 election, saying current events could influence voters' decisions. 

BN received the support of 37.84% of voters at GE14, a figure which increased only marginally to 38.39% at the Melaka state election in November last year. 

At the Johor election in March, meanwhile, BN won 43.11% of voters' support. 

Its by-election victories were also premised on low voter turnouts, which allowed it to mobilise its hardcore voters. 

Looking ahead to GE15, Kartini expects a high voter turnout given the country's strong vaccination numbers. 

She said PH's need for 30% of those on the fence referred to areas in clear support of the pact such as urban and non-Malay seats. 

Nevertheless, she said the issues of region and ethnicity were not absolute factors in determining the election outcome. 

"Strategic interests and consensus can also unite and divide coalitions in any party," she said. 

"And the Malay voters are faced with the dilemma of whether to choose Umno, PAS, Bersatu, PKR, Pejuang, Muda or Warisan." 

A swing in the Malay vote would be crucial to PH's goal of retaking Putrajaya. 

At GE14, the coalition succeeded in toppling BN due in part to the influence of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his party at the time, Bersatu. 

Mahathir, who is now the chairman of Pejuang, recently announced a new Malay movement called Gerakan Tanah Air to challenge Umno in the political arena. 

Mazlan said Umno and Perikatan Nasional were also in need of the Malay vote. 

"If the Malay vote is split three ways, the multi-cornered fight could benefit PH," he said. 

Kartini meanwhile said the "Mahathir factor" had begun to fade among the Malays and non-Malays alike. 

Now, she said, the parties most likely to succeed in fishing for votes would be those who champion current and bread-and-butter issues post Covid-19.