Who wins if Malaysia holds snap polls now? Political observers weigh in

The Umno-PAS partnership would appear to have the edge in fresh polls, according to observers. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
The Umno-PAS partnership would appear to have the edge in fresh polls, according to observers. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — Federal Opposition parties Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS have been pressing for a general election to resolve the current political impasse where no political grouping has sufficient numbers for a majority to form government.

But will this method work? And who will it favour?

Following the latest reshuffling over the past few days and new political realignments since the 14th general election (GE14) in May 2018, the current main groupings are Pakatan Harapan (PH) composed of DAP, PKR, Parti Amanah Negara, while Barisan Nasional’s Umno has partnered with PAS to form Muafakat Nasional, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) is now solo after having left PH.

Some political observers told Malay Mail that the Umno-PAS partnership appears to have the edge in fresh polls, while others noted that there may be no clear winner still, with Sabah and Sarawak parties the potential kingmaker.

A new government with Umno, PAS?

Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow of Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Umno and PAS could likely emerge as the winners following a general election (GE).

“I think if there is a fresh GE, Umno and PAS plus some minor parties could cobble together a majority coalition to form a government, which was why they have been so gung-ho about calling for new GE these few days. Whether that sort of new GE result is good for a progressive outlook for the country is another matter,” he told Malay Mail.

“I think Umno and PAS’ wins would be so overwhelming that they need but a handful of seats to clinch a majority, so either PPBM or some other minor parties would do,” he said, adding that parties in Sabah and Sarawak are “traditionally prime targets for such coalition building” to form government.

Oh explained that Muafakat Nasional comprising Umno and PAS will mostly benefit from a fresh election, as both parties combined garnered 75 per cent of the Malay votes in GE14.

He said PPBM would “fare rather poorly” in a fresh polls regardless of whether it goes in alone or partners with other parties, saying: “I think if not due to both Umno and PAS both putting up candidates in the last GE, PPBM would not have won most of their seats.”

He said any party that goes up against PAS or Umno in Malay-majority or Malay-dominant seats will not stand a chance to win there.

As for PH, Oh said they will “likely retain those non-Malay, mixed and progressive Malay, urban and suburb seats.”

Umno and PAS have the edge, but final say with Borneo

Research firm Ilham Centre research chief Yusri Ibrahim noted that there would be two main factors at play, namely how the parties team up and the significant role of Sabah and Sarawak parties.

Yusri said the final form of the opposition parties’ coalition was still unclear such as whether they would take on the name of Barisan Nasional, Muafakat Nasional, Perikatan Nasional or Penyatuan Ummah, while also noting that only PH had a solid coalition of PKR, DAP, Amanah but it lacks strong support from Malay voters after PPBM’s pullout.

Yusri said PPBM would not be contesting alone and would either partner BN and PAS or return to PH, adding that PPBM for now appears inclined to join Umno and PAS’ partnership.

“If Umno, PAS and PPBM can seal an official coalition, they have bright prospects of winning seats in the Malay areas. In other words, they have the potential to maintain the existing seats won by Umno, PAS and PPBM before this, and have the chance of wresting several more seats that were previously won by Amanah and PKR,” he said.

Yusri said Sabah and Sarawak parties will potentially be the determining factor of who will form the federal government, noting: “In the current situation, no one can have the guarantee of being in power in Putrajaya without the support of Borneo parties.”

“Peninsular parties’ coalitions whether PH or BN/MN/PN has better chances of winning federal power if there is support from Sabah and Sarawak. This is because those Borneo states have 56 parliamentary seats, that is one quarter from the total 222 Dewan Rakyat members, a very significant number to be the deciding force,” he said, noting that local parties in Sabah and Sarawak previously said they would not officially join the Peninsular-based parties but would work with them as Parti Warisan Sabah did with PH previously.

He also outlined the challenges that Muafakat Nasional may face such as determining the logo to be used in a snap poll, also noting that Umno, PAS and PPBM would have overlapping seats due to their common Malay-Muslim voter base and that the division of seats would be complex and potentially become a big problem if not handled well.

PH without PPBM would, on the other hand, face an easier task of dividing seats to contest in due to their different voter demographics, with PKR contesting in mixed seats, Amanah in Malay-dominant seats and DAP in Chinese- and Indian-majority seats, he said.

When asked who would have the upper hand currently, Yusri said the Opposition parties (regardless of whether PPBM is part of their coalition) have a bit of an “advantage” compared to PH, due to PH’s already low popularity and voter support before the current political crisis as indicated by the coalition’s defeat in five by-elections from Cameron Highlands to Kimanis.

But he also indicated that it would be hard to make further predictions due to the many variables, adding that by-elections may be an indicator but voting patterns would differ during general elections.

He also said PH would benefit if PPBM returns to its fold, but the coalition would still find it hard to regain May 2018 support levels.

With no guarantee of who would emerge as the federal government, Yusri explained PAS and Umno’s insistence on fresh polls: “For them, nothing to lose compared to PH.”

No clear winner?

When asked which political coalition would benefit from fresh polls, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Arnold Puyok pointed to the fluid political situation.

“I would say it would not be as clear cut as the dynamics on the ground is changing very fast. Most have lost confidence in the ability of PH to govern well and are unsure whether Muafakat Nasional can do any better. A bit difficult for PPBM as it is internally affected by the recent political developments,” he said, agreeing that there may not be a clear winner in a fresh election.

He, said, however that a fresh election “is still better as it gives the opportunity to the warring groups to get fresh mandate from the people.”

What GE15 may look like

When asked if either PH, Muafakat Nasional or PPBM would benefit more from a fresh polls, Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Professor Jayum Jawan noted that they would have to work together in some form to become a government.

“None will get the absolute numbers to form government on their own. Coalition will still be the way and the best approach to govern a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation.

“Now all people are not using their heads wisely… they are guided by personal interest and agenda that cloud their better judgement,” he told Malay Mail.

He added that ultimately the 56 seats from Sabah and Sarawak would be the decisive factor regardless of which coalition PPBM opts to join, pointing out that PPBM, Umno, PAS and PKR are all fighting for the same pool of Malay voters or Malay-majority seats.

“Based on prevailing moods and political climate, I would expect Umno to gain some ground and perhaps PAS too.

“DAP is expected to maintain, Amanah to lose out a bit, while PPBM is not expected to improve against the Umno-Pas pact. Sabah and Sarawak continue to save the day based on whom they support post-GE15. Any party hopeful to form the next government after GE15, make your offer to the two regions,” he said.

If snap polls are called, Jayum said Malay voters are likely to consolidate behind Umno and PAS at the expense of PKR, while Amanah could see its seats reduced due to lack of a “real direction” and concrete offerings to endear themselves to their support base, and DAP may possibly be punished by voters for failure to deliver on many pre-election promises but could also possibly be sustained by ethnic consolidation such as Chinese votes.

“PPBM does not have extensive machinery at grassroots compared to Umno and PAS. Good if it can sustain what they now have,” he said.