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Malaysian Party Looks to Take Malay Votes from UMNO in 2018 Polls

Razlan Rashid and Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
2018-03-20
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A voter checks his documentation during the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party elections in Ampang, near Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 19, 2013.
A voter checks his documentation during the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party elections in Ampang, near Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 19, 2013.
AFP

Malaysia’s newest political party, Bersatu, is focusing on gaining the votes of the ethnic Malay Muslim majority in its bid to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition in upcoming elections, party president Muhyiddin Yassin told BenarNews on Tuesday.

Disenchanted Malay voters are “highly likely” to help the opposition  increase its 2013 popular vote tally by three to five percent,  according to the former deputy prime minister and head of the United Malaysian Indigenous Party (Bersatu or PPBM).

“Our strategy is to pull the support from Malays who used to support BN and especially UMNO. It is clear our strategy is working,” Muhyiddin told BenarNews in an interview at the Malaysian parliament in Kuala Lumpur.

Najib, leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), linchpin of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, will face a stiff challenge in the election from his former mentor, ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who heads Bersatu.

Mahathir quit UMNO two years ago when he accused the ruling party of shielding Najib from corruption allegations tied to a financial scandal around state fund 1MDB. The prime minister has denied those allegations.

Barisan Nasional (BN) has ruled Malaysia since its founding in 1957.

“In the 2013 General Election, the opposition had 52 percent of popular votes and BN had 48 percent. But it wasn’t enough to bring a change,” Muhyiddin said.

“I believe if there is a 5 percent move, to maybe 55 percent or 57 percent, which is highly likely to happen especially among the Malays, the win will be for [the opposition coalition] Pakatan Harapan.”

Registration trouble

Pakatan Harapan is an alliance made up of Bersatu and three other parties that are hoping to defeat the ruling bloc in this year’s election, which must be held before August, according to the country’s constitution.

Najib is expected to dissolve parliament during the last week of March or first week of April and then set a date for the 14th general election, according to reports and an official in the Prime Minister’s Department. Polls could take place at the end of April or early May, the source told BenarNews last week.

But Bersatu is now facing a hurdle – the possibility of being de-listed as a party by the Registrar of Societies (RoS), the government agency responsible for registering political parties in Malaysia.

On Feb. 28, the registry warned Bersatu that it would issue a notice of dissolution to the party if it failed to submit minutes from branch and central committee meetings and certain financial statements within 30 days.

Officials at RoS did not respond immediately to requests for comment emailed by BenarNews.

Earlier, RoS Director-General Surayati Ibrahim said the notice was issued following complaints from former PPBM members to the agency, and RoS required such information to complete an investigation of those complaints.

“Notice 14 (2) is a notice referring to matters directed by ROS pertaining to submission of minutes of branch, divisions meetings, and at central level as well as the description of the party’s financial statements,” she said in a statement on March 9.

If RoS removes Bersatu from its registry, the party will still have options for contesting the upcoming polls, Muhyiddin said.

“We know what we can do,” he told Benar. “[W]e are committed [to] the cause of Pakatan Harapan.”

“We believe members of the other three parties would want us to be part of the coalition and so what has been agreed by them is PPBM’s participation in the election, seat allocations and all. Of course we still will be able to contest under the election even if we don’t have a party, even it is deregistered,” he added.

Wong Chin Huat, a political analyst from the Penang Institute, said Bersatu would not be able to field candidates in the 14th General Election if RoS cancelled its registration.

But, he said, the party’s candidates could still contest the polls under the banner of other opposition parties.

“According to Malaysia’s constitution, if Bersatu’s registration is cancelled, the party cannot place candidates in the 14th General Election but they can contest as independent candidates, or using another party’s logo in Pakatan Harapan,” he told BenarNews.

‘We will fight for all races’

Mahathir quit UMNO two years ago when he accused the ruling party of shielding Najib from corruption allegations tied to a financial scandal around state fund 1MDB. The prime minister has denied those allegations.

In early January, Pakatan Harapan announced that the 92-year-old Mahathir would be its choice as the next prime minister should the opposition coalition defeat Barisan Nasional in the coming election.

Pakatan officials said Mahathir could serve as PM before ceding the position to Anwar Ibrahim, his former bitter foe and the imprisoned de facto opposition leader, should Malaysia’s king pardon Anwar for his sodomy conviction.

In the interview, Muhyiddin also tried to allay concerns from members of Malaysia’s ethnic minority groups that Bersatu was a party that would pander solely to the Malay majority.

“They thought we are racist but now they understand we are not,” he said. “We are really a Malaysia party with a nationalistic nature, fighting for all Malaysians – Chinese, Indians, Sabahans, Sarawakians and others.”

“It is a national party for the sake of Malaysia … We will fight for all races, find solutions to many ills the country and people are facing,” he added.

After Pakatan unveiled a 200-page electoral manifesto this month that promised to provide 1 million jobs and do away with the goods and services tax (GST) introduced by Najib at a rate of 6 percent three years ago, the prime minister shot back. He said the nation’s debt would surge to 416 billion ringgit (U.S. $106.1 billion) if Pakatan did away the tax and road tolls.

“Going by its manifesto, our country will decline more into debt. You (young people) will have to bear it. We cannot cheat the people; don't cheat the people. We do what we can. If we cannot do something, we have to admit that we cannot do it,” Najib told students at Universiti Malaysia Perlis on March 13, according to Bernama, the state-run news agency.

“But believe me, we [Barisan Nasional] always have the people under consideration because the people come first in our policies.”

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