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Whither Anwar's 'more Malay than PN' approach?

The Pakatan Harapan chairman continues to grapple with the problem of Malay support for his coalition.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli & Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announces his Cabinet line-up in Putrajaya on Dec 2, 2022.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announces his Cabinet line-up in Putrajaya on Dec 2, 2022.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Anwar Ibrahim, who leads a coalition government formed with several major pacts, will have to emphasise his Malay side in order to appeal to the ethnic community, an expert says as questions linger over the prime minister's support from the country's largest racial group in the wake of the recent election results which showed a surge of support for Perikatan Nasional (PN). 

Although PH won the most seats at the 15th general election (GE15) on Nov 19 last year, Anwar lacked support from the Malay community, with one study by political analyst Bridget Welsh placing PH's share of the Malay vote at just 11%. 

PN was estimated to have 54% with the rest going to Barisan Nasional. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, seasoned public relations expert Syed Arabi Syed Abdullah Idid compared PH's current situation to its first stint in government, when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, its leader at the time, began losing Malay support. 

"PH lost many by-elections then, demonstrating the Malays' disappointment in the coalition even though Mahathir was accepted at the 14th general election," he said. 

He said Anwar's government would have to consider the present concerns about the support of the ethnic group, while the prime minister himself would need to emphasise his Malay side in addition to championing issues related to the race. 

Adding that these were not many in number, Syed Arabi, a communications professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia, nonetheless said that the price of goods and the cost of living would be a major problem for Anwar's administration. 

"We see him on television, wearing the baju Melayu and songkok when he appears on religious programmes," he said. 

"Anwar wants to carry with him religion with Malay elements, the same as he did when he led Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia." 

Anwar, who has been actively meeting with congregants after the Friday prayers, also organised a programme together with religious leaders from Egypt's Al-Azhar University. 

His New Year's message, meanwhile, was delivered from a mosque in Putrajaya, the administrative capital which PN wrested for the first time at the Nov 19 polls. 

In a recent interview with RTM, he said the government would not recognise LGBT practices, secularism or communism – all of which are sensitive issues among the Malay voters. 

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said the fact of the matter should be acknowledged by all senior Malay leaders following the increase in Malay sentiments at GE15. 

"So far, Anwar has done it in a delicate manner, showcasing his Islamic credentials at various religious occasions and venues while exhorting in a positive tone the Malay-Muslims to rise to greater heights for the common good of the nation," he said. 

"The non-Malays are still comfortable with his approach, while keeping a vigilant eye on the green tide," he added, referring to the wave of support for PAS, a founding member of PN which won the most seats of any single political party at GE15.