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Are PN MPs slacking in raising people's plight?

Two analysts share their views on the performance of Perikatan Nasional, which came close to forming the government at the last polls.

3 minute read
Perikatan Nasional, with 74 MPs, with a solid Malay-Muslim composition, poses a challenge to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's government.
Perikatan Nasional, with 74 MPs, with a solid Malay-Muslim composition, poses a challenge to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's government.

Despite making history as Malaysia's largest, nearly entirely Malay-Muslim opposition bloc, Perikatan Nasional's (PN) MPs have been seen as slow to highlight issues that are close to the people or to give the government a run for its money, both within and outside of the Dewan Rakyat. 

Some political analysts say PN has little to say on issues that could challenge Pakatan Harapan's (PH) image as a progressive coalition, or in debunking the stereotype of the opposition being interested only in Malay and Islamic issues for political mileage. 

One example is the controversy over the government's attempt to amend constitutional provisions on citizenship, which sparked strong criticism from parties who had traditionally considered the coalition government led by Anwar Ibrahim as "better" than the "right-wing" opposition. 

The amendments, which were postponed following protest from rights groups and victims of statelessness, had been described as cruel to foundlings and stateless children born in Malaysia. 

But while the issue has been actively championed by civil society, this is not the case with the opposition bloc. 

"In Parliament, there appear to be no PN representatives who are capable of taking up prolific issues in debates," said political analyst Mazlan Ali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, responding to a question on the performance of PN which came close to forming the government following the hung parliament after the last general election.

Mazlan gave the example of last year's Budget 2024 debate.

"There were no ideas or alternatives coming from the opposition to the government."

This was despite an array of grievances against the government that have dominated the political debate on social media, including the cost of living and the rice supply problem, with no lasting solution in sight despite an entire ministry dedicated to food security.

PN has 74 MPs, although six of them have defected by expressing support for Anwar.

Mazlan said this showed the internal problems plaguing the coalition.

The matter is further compounded by what has been seen as Anwar training his guns on his political enemies by launching corruption investigations. 

"This is likely to cause them to lose focus," Mazlan said. 

Leaders who have been targeted by the government include Bersatu president and PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin, who faces four charges of corruption amounting to RM232.5 million.

Meanwhile, Tasek Gelugor MP Wan Saiful Wan Jan has been slapped with corruption and money laundering charges, and Bersatu information chief Razali Idris with sedition.

Political observer Azizi Safar believes the majority of PN MPs have performed well.

However, he said their work had received no mainstream media coverage. 

"This makes PN look like it is not championing important issues affecting the people these days," said Azizi, the former executive secretary of Penang Barisan Nasional.

He said even assuming that PN had been "slow", the government was still in panic mode, especially as PH's own supporters had started airing their disappointment with the ruling coalition.

These disappointments are largely centred on what is seen as the administration's failure to make good on promises of reforms, such as the use of draconian laws against its critics, restrictions on the media, and the introduction of new taxes such as the luxury goods tax or the increase of current taxes such as the sales and service tax and the digital services tax.

Azizi said PN was still in a "comfort zone" due to the solid support it enjoys from the Malay community. 

"PN is probably comfortable and confident that the majority of Malay support is still with it, even though it is not on the front line when it comes to people's issues.

"It may also be PN's strategy not to play up the people's issues too much, so as not to be seen as disrupting political stability."