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Having lost its way, Umno could be toast in the next polls!

Support for Umno politicians from semi-urban voters is fast falling while the urban votes have long dried up


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By Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan

Umno, supposedly the protector of ethnic Malay rights and interests since independence, is poised to lose Pahang, its political haven, at the next general election.

That is the finding of a survey by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Malay votes have apparently swung to Perikatan Nasional in just over a year.

Umno lost its mantle in Penang (its Barisan Nasional coalition partner back then, Gerakan, was never in full control of Penang), Selangor and Kelantan some years ago. The dominant BN party later also lost Perlis, Kedah and Terengganu.

Given the increased votes for Perikatan Nasional in the six state elections last year, few will be shocked if more states fall on the opposition coalition’s lap.

Nothing, it seems, is stopping PN’s gluttonous political appetite from devouring Umno’s strongholds and keeping the momentum going until the next general election.

Many long-held Umno seats fell like dominos in the state elections last year. The party also failed to rally its supporters to vote for the Pakatan Harapan coalition, the BN’s partner in the “unity government”.

In the 2022 general election, PN pipped Umno 17-16 in the state seats of Pahang. (PN also captured seven parliamentary seats in Pahang against Umno’s five.) Umno would have lost the state government if not for support from PH, which won eight seats. In lending its support, PH was reciprocating the support it received from BN to form the federal government.

Will Pahang finally fall into PN hands at the next general election? Looking at the electoral map, the PN onslaught is coming from the direction of Terengganu, a state that PN coalition partner Pas swept clean.

Intriguingly, Umno thinks the only way it can recover politically is by banking on the very person who almost single-handedly destroyed the party and the nation – Najib Razak. The party is doing everything possible to bring him back as soon as possible. The thinking is that Malay voters, attracted by his fake charisma, will return in droves to the party.

But the ‘discount’ given to Najib’s sentence by the Pardons Board has backfired. More people are shocked to know there seem to be double standards in our rule of law and justice system. If you are poor and steal food, there is often no mercy and you are likely to be severely punished. But for nobles and politicians, however corrupt they may be, they may get big ‘discounts’ – and perhaps even VIP treatment in prison?

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Umno knows the votes of the ethnic minorities, enraged by its toxic politics, have largely evaporated. Look at the KK Super Mart boycott call by the imprudent and inane Umno youth wing leader, Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh, and how quickly the Umno leadership supported his pathetic calls.

Support for these Umno politicians from semi-urban voters is fast falling while the urban votes have long dried up.

Politically attuned folk who have been hurt by reckless episodes of toxic politic anathemas will not easily forget the bullying and insults.

Hence, Umno’s survival depends on clawing back Malay votes from PN. But that is a tough call. The six state elections last year suggest – and this has been affirmed by the Merdeka Center survey – that Malay votes have not stopped flowing to PN.

Umno may claim control of Malay kampongs through engineered political machinations, local councils, federal financial disbursements and project approvals.

But the more powerful domains are still the mosques, suraus and Islamic religious events where PN preachers have a tight hold over the Malay psyche.

It is not a coincidence that the Umno president was given the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development portfolio. This ministry is responsible for rural development (read kampongs, where many Malays live), community development, bumiputras, small holders and land rehabilitation. All these point to the kampongs, Malay needs, Malay minds and hence the Malay vote bank.

The ethnic minorities votes – they vapourised along with the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan – do not seem to be on Umno’s wishlist anymore.

The dominant BN party is fully aware its days of having monopoly control over federal reins are over. Its survival now rests on linking up with other coalitions that spearhead the government. It is one of the train carriages, no longer the locomotive.

Umno president Zahid Hamidi’s ministry has all the tools his party needs to recover politically, if he plays his cards well. Under his belt, he has Kemas (for community development), Jakoa (for the Orang Asli) and Mara (for business and student scholarships).

Under his purview, he also has the Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu development authorities (states now under Pas), as well as development agencies in Johor and Penang.

The icing on the cake is that Zahid is also Deputy PM, giving him the right to poke his nose everywhere.

The other portfolios held by cabinet ministers from Umno will not help much in the drive to bring back Malay votes – except for defence (military votes), trade and industry (entrepreneurs), higher education, plantations and commodities, along with the portfolios of a few deputy ministers, who play lesser roles.

READ MORE:  Umno tainting 'unity government' with push for Najib’s release - analyst

So, Umno is in survival mode now. The “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government lost so many key seats to PN, due to Umno’s severe losses in the state elections last year. Most argue it will be a herculean task for Umno not to vanish into obscurity in the next general election.

The Umno ship lost wind in its torn sail and disgracefully failed to stop the ‘green wave’ from chewing it up. It would be a bad gamble, even foolish, for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to sacrifice more seats for the Umno to stand in the next election, only to be easily gobbled up by PN.

So far, there are no signs that Umno is doing the right things to win hearts and minds. The cake – Malay votes – is just a little over 50% of the population of Malaysia. The other bumiputras, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, do not necessarily support Umno’s racial policies.

So the battle for Malay votes will be fought four ways: Pas and Bersatu – fighting for survival, Umno and PKR + Amanah.

But by purging so many of its past influential leaders and with its loss of direction after the last general election, Umno has lost its appeal and shine.

The 50% sentencing ‘discount’, the string of Umno warlords receiving a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, and Akmal’s arrogant behaviour could help bury the party for good.

Boycott – doom or boon?

Many Muslims were outraged over the socks with the word “Allah” allegedly sold in KK Super Mart, regarding it as blasphemous.

Although we know now it was not done on purpose and had passed through many levels of inspection – customs, importer, supplier and KK’s quality control – somehow the socks still slipped through.

In all fairness, once a police report was made and those involved were charged in court, people should let the law and justice take its course.

That’s what our Agong, Sultan Ibrahim, decreed. Nobody should further fuel the outrage. Instead, they should continue to respect the sensitivities of each other’s faiths and maintain peace and order.

In a diverse country like Malaysia, small conflicts sometimes surface due to different cultures and traditions. To overcome such episodes, we must be prepared to quickly defuse any conflict together and remain motivated to build inclusivity among the people of Malaysia.

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Unfortunately, some politicians get carried away by emotions, spurred by the arrogance of power. They went overboard in trying to score brownie points.

The call for a boycott by certain Umno politicians was unnecessary because what they are doing is indirectly punishing the entire population.

The message being sent is, no matter how huge your chain is, how much your investment is and how many thousands of jobs are at stake, certain politicians will not hesitate even for a second, to destroy your business if it causes them displeasure.

What message does it send to potential investors? Take a guess, which community will be the biggest loser?

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country. The faith pivots on peace, compassion, mercy and tolerance.

But what message are we giving out to the world? That the Islam professed in Malaysia is somehow different? That we have no mercy and very little tolerance?

What’s wrong with us? Why are we so quick to punish others? Why do we so easily get hurt? We were not like this 30-40 years ago. What has changed? Why can’t empathy prevail?

Thank God, Pas did not jump into the fray – because its followers are known to be more susceptible to quickly getting emotionally charged up over such sacrilegious issues. But they did not. This saved our country from burning. This time, they let wisdom prevail.

Political pundits offer two reasons for this.

First, KK Super Mart is believed to have been involved in several Pas activities. So, perhaps Pas leaders have been advised to stay out of this madness.

The second reason is more interesting, if it is true. Call it a brilliant tactical political strategy, Pas simply left Umno alone to face the resentment of ethnic minority investors and ordinary folk. This way, Umno will further irk and upset the ethnic minorities and eventually face their wrath at the next election. PN, on the other hands, gets to portray itself as more the compassionate, tolerant and humane alternative. It gets to draw greater sympathy and even votes from the ethnic minorities.

So Umno is happily digging its own grave.

Now that the KK Super Mart owner has personally sought an audience and apologised to the king, this matter should be allowed to rest for good.

Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
5 April 2024

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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