Sacked Umno leader Khairy Jamaluddin has given his strongest take yet on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's seven-month-old administration, saying a lack of economic direction has increased a general feeling of discontent within the Malay community over issues beyond the so-called "3R" issues of race, religion, and royalty.
"Over the last seven months, there has been a clear lack of economic direction: the Malaysian ringgit continues to weaken and the cost-of-living crisis continues to erode the people’s purchasing power," Khairy wrote on Fulcrum, a journal published by Singapore think tank Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.
"This palpable Malay anger is amplified by the perceived hypocrisy of the present administration, which talks about eradicating corruption and upholding good governance but accommodates a tainted Umno leadership. What we may see at the state polls is less a 'green wave' than a tsunami of discontent," he said, referring to the phrase used to describe PAS' gains at the last general election.
Khairy said the shift in Malay support had more to do with discontent within the community over issues such as the economy and the government's handling of corruption.
He said unlike the rise of PAS in the 1980s and 1990s, its current popularity through the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition had "more dimensions than merely increased religiosity among the Malays".
"What is happening in Malaysia today is less the rise of an extremist 'green wave' than the expression of genuine discontent in the Malay community that goes beyond the 3R issues," he added.
A total of six states will go to the polls in the coming months: Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu.
The first three are under Pakatan Harapan (PH) rule while the latter three are under PN, which came from behind to make surprise gains at the 15th general election last year, including in constituencies traditionally considered PH and Barisan Nasional strongholds.
Commenting on PN's election performance, Khairy said it had won seats beyond PAS' traditional Malay heartland and extended its gains by winning in some urban centres which have lower concentrations of Malay voters.
"The victorious candidates campaigned under a new PN banner and eschewed the green full moon symbol traditionally associated with PAS and political Islam," he added.
Khairy, who has not stated a party of choice since being ejected from Umno, also warned that describing the state elections to come as "an existential choice for Malaysians" could backfire and drive more Malay voters to support PN.
"Malays in Malaysia have become more outwardly observant of their religious duties but this does not mean there is a tide of Islamic extremism sweeping through Malaysia," he said.