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Questions about PN's 'value proposition' after by-election loss

While it remains the coalition of choice for the Malays, it can only achieve victory if it wins the support of the non-Malays as well.

3 minute read
The Indian community's dissatisfaction with the government failed to translate into votes for PN in Kuala Kubu Baharu.
The Indian community's dissatisfaction with the government failed to translate into votes for PN in Kuala Kubu Baharu.

Questions have been raised on what value proposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) can bring to increase its support beyond its current vote bank following its defeat in the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election last week. 

The opposition coalition, comprising PAS, Bersatu and Gerakan, currently controls more than 70 seats in Parliament, and has a strong presence in states such as Selangor and Penang – traditionally considered strongholds of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN). 

PN also governs four states in the peninsula: Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu.

However, its recent defeat in Kuala Kubu Baharu appears to be proof of its failure to gain additional support beyond what it received in the 2022 general election and state elections last year. 

Citing the familiar claim that PN is "hurtful" to non-Malay voters, analyst Tunku Mohar Mokhtar said it could not avoid the fact that this had become an obstacle to its plans for expansion. 

"More importantly, it needs to do its job as the opposition instead of constantly raising the spectre of toppling the government," added Tunku Mohar, who teaches political science at the International Islamic University.

He also said it was necessary to move away from politics based on religious and ethnic sentiments.

His view was shared by Ilham Centre, which conducts opinion polls among voters and recently predicted PN's defeat.

The centre's executive director, Hisomuddin Bakar, said PN needed to focus on a new form of "marketing" by expanding its reach to non-Malay voters.

Hisomuddin said the Indian community in Kuala Kubu Baharu, which was said to be leaning towards PN, still viewed PAS as "extreme", a label used against the Islamic party by DAP and its PH ally Amanah. 

He said the reality of Malaysia's political landscape required PN to obtain support from other races to achieve victory.

"Focusing on a single community is not sustainable. The formula of including other races is in line with Malaysia's diverse demographics," he told MalaysiaNow.

There is also the question of whether PN will give up its Malay-Muslim identity if it tries to attract non-Muslim support.

Hisomuddin said this was not a problem. "They just have to explain the reasons (for reaching out to non-Malays) to the majority who are on their side," he added.

Former minister Zaid Ibrahim had a more radical suggestion. He said it was time for Bersatu and PAS leaders Muhyiddin Yassin and Abdul Hadi Awang to make way for new blood. 

"Looking back, PH won big because PN had nothing to offer. Absolutely nothing. The leaders are very old, not just in age but in ideas," he said in a post on X.

Asked to explain, Zaid said party members should have the freedom to openly discuss the future of their leadership.

Bersatu's main spokesman however said that the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election could not be used as a benchmark for PN's performance as the seat was considered a DAP stronghold.

"The party still needs people like Muhyiddin and Hadi. We have our own structure and we have party elections without preventing anyone from running," Bersatu information chief Razali Idris told MalaysiaNow.

KKB_Ceramah_Muhyiddin_Mnow_300424Razali also referred to Muhyiddin's offer to step down from the top post, which was rejected by the party.

However, he agreed that PN needed to work out a strategy to win the support of the non-Malays.

For Zaid, a narrative centred on the defence of the poor could be an effective value proposition.

"Malaysia needs fair and balanced economic planning. Fair to the low-income groups and the wealthy, fair to the Malays and non-Malays.

"Now, our policies are dictated by monopolies and tycoons," he told MalaysiaNow.

And despite his criticism of PN, Zaid was confident in the ability of its leadership to wage such a fight. 

"PN has the leaders to plan better economic policies for the 70% of our voters," he said, referring to the Malays who remain loyal to the coalition.

Zaid said that while Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had often raised the issue of poverty, the government's policies had so far failed.

"Talking is easy. What policy is there? Our GDP has increased 24-fold since Merdeka, but factory workers' wages have only doubled."

The 16th general election must be held by 2027 – and the question for PN is whether it has time to make changes.

Hisomuddin said PN could still develop a new political plan to win the support of the non-Malays and eventually complete the coalition.

"PN needs to be more creative in approaching this segment that seems impenetrable to them.

"Without the support of the non-Malay voters, it will be difficult for PN to achieve victory."