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Malaysia election: What we know about the political parties’ strategies so far

The Election Commission will have a special meeting on Thursday to set the dates for nomination and polling day.

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia gears up for the 15th General Election (GE15) before the end of the year, political parties have begun formulating their election strategies and selecting candidates for the contest. 

Caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the dissolution of parliament in a televised address last Monday (Oct 10), paving the way for snap polls. 

The Election Commission (EC) will have a special meeting on Thursday to discuss and set important dates for GE15 as well as the state by-election for Bugaya in Sabah.

The dates for nomination and polling day are expected to be announced on Thursday around noon after the conclusion of the meeting.

Since the dissolution of parliament, only the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led states of Perak, Perlis and Pahang have dissolved their legislatures. This means that state polls for these three places will be held concurrently with the national elections.

Opposition parties have expressed reservations over the early election, with Perikatan Nasional (PN) ministers writing to the king before the Lower House was dissolved to voice their objections over holding polls during the monsoon season.

Mr Ismail Sabri defended his decision to dissolve parliament early, explaining that it was done to prevent disharmony in the Cabinet. 

With observers noting that polls will need to be held soon before the arrival of the monsoon season, here’s what we know about the parties’ strategies so far:

BN NOT EXPECTING EASY WINS

Barisan Nasional (BN) can no longer simply field any candidate in an election and expect an easy win, said Mr Ismail Sabri, who is also United Malays National Organisation’s (UMNO) vice-president. 

The Bera lawmaker said that unlike before, BN has to work much harder and cannot afford to be in its comfort zone due to the challenging political situation these days.

“In the past, when we contested, we were sure to win even if we fielded a ‘songkok’ (headgear worn by Malay men). But times are changing. GE14 (14th General Election) clearly showed us that we cannot merely rely on having the confidence to win many votes easily,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama on Monday.

“Unlike in the past, there is no more guarantee of an easy win. We now have to work very hard.”

The coalition has also indicated that it will be contesting in 191 parliamentary seats.

Meanwhile, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Wednesday that the party will not be cooperating with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). 

He said it is because Bersatu was formed to replace UMNO and working with it would only bring harm.

It was also reported that aside from UMNO and the other BN component parties, candidates from parties that are recognised as Friends of BN would be given the chance to contest under the coalition’s banner for the first time.

Friends of BN comprise Makkal Sakti, Parti Cinta Malaysia, Malaysian Indian Progressive Front, Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress, Malaysian Indian United Party and Parti Punjabi Malaysia.

On Tuesday, Mr Ismail Sabri said that the decision on whether BN will “merge” with other parties if it was unable to secure a simple majority will only be made after GE15.

“Let’s see the results first and decide later. We’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama. 

Mr Ismail Sabri also said on Monday that BN is entering the GE15 ring not merely to compete but to win the polls with a large majority.

BN must become the dominant party in the new government, he said. 

“We will only acquire enough power for others to listen to us if we occupy at least 80 seats or a two-thirds (majority). If the party is not strong and unable to dominate, it would be difficult to make decisions and control Putrajaya,” he said. 

Separately, it was reported that Mr Ismail Sabri remains the BN candidate for the post of prime minister in GE15.

"At the party level, the decision that Ismail Sabri is our 'poster boy' and candidate for the post of prime minister is final as decided by the UMNO supreme council,” Ahmad Zahid was quoted as saying by The Star last Sunday. 

There are 222 seats in the Lower House. During GE14, BN lost its 61-year hold on power to Pakatan Harapan (PH).

PH EXPECTED TO LAUNCH ITS MANIFESTO ON THURSDAY

On Thursday evening, PH is scheduled to hold a convention in Ipoh, during which it is expected to launch the coalition’s manifesto.

Last Wednesday, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the biggest PH component party, said that its list of candidates will be finalised on Oct 19. 

PKR’s deputy president Rafizi Ramli said a committee headed by him and the party’s vice-presidents will decide on a shortlist of candidates.

“The committee’s secretariat is now filtering the list of potential candidates,” he said in a statement. 

DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said on Tuesday that the party will announce its list of candidates for GE15 in each state in stages starting next week.

“We have yet to finalise the list. The states have sent their recommendations, we will discuss and finalise it,” he was quoted as saying by Free Malaysia Today. 

Last Wednesday, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) Youth chief Mohd Hasbie Muda said the alliance with Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) is likely to happen during GE15. 

Both DAP and Amanah are PH component parties.

Mr Mohd Hasbie of Amanah said it would be a long shot for MUDA to become a component party of the coalition as PH would require more time to convince its grassroots to embrace MUDA as an equal partner in the coalition.

"Since all party presidents will be on an equal footing, some are reluctant to place (MUDA president) Syed Saddiq on par with PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and his counterparts.

"A small segment of PH grassroots still feel Syed Saddiq was part of the 'Sheraton Move' (that toppled the 22-month-old PH government in Feb 2020) and that he has not emerged from Mahathir Mohamad's shadow," he was quoted as saying by New Straits Times.

MUDA is led by Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman. The former Bersatu member became Malaysia’s youngest-ever minister when PH first claimed power in 2018. He was sacked by Bersatu after the Sheraton Move.

PH said last week that it is only considering an electoral pact with MUDA for GE15 instead of admitting the youth-centric party as a component party. 

PAS, BERSATU CLOSE RANKS

Within the PN coalition, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) appears to have closed ranks with Bersatu, while being open to forming coalitions ahead of polling day. 

“We will strengthen our cooperation with PN for GE15, on the principle of unifying the ummah (Muslim community),” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said in a statement last Thursday. 

This came after talks on whether PAS will remain with PN or collaborate with UMNO for GE15. 

While PAS is part of the PN coalition led by Bersatu, the Islamist party also has a Muafakat Nasional (MN) political pact with UMNO.

A day after announcing PAS’ cooperation with PN, the party’s secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan told reporters that PAS is still open to forming coalitions with other political parties in the lead-up to GE15.

According to Bernama, he rejected the suggestion that PAS is ditching the MN pact with UMNO when it decided to strengthen cooperation within PN. 

“The statement on strengthening ties with PN (was made) because PAS is within the PN coalition … but were there any statements on us severing ties with MN? Yes or no?” he was quoted as saying. 

PN has yet to decide on a logo to be used by its component parties during GE15.

According to Free Malaysia Today, while the coalition’s partners have agreed to campaign under the PN logo, PAS will be campaigning under its own logo in the three states it currently controls – Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.

The coalition’s partners include Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan), Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).

PAS’ Mr Takiyuddin said on Sunday that the party’s decision to use its own logo in the three states had received the “green light” from PN leaders.

The PN supreme council will meet soon to finalise the campaign logo.

PN is also expected to finalise the distribution of parliamentary and state seats among its component parties by Friday.

As a strategy to win in GE15, Bersatu and PAS are not ruling out the possibility of swapping seats. 

“During discussions with the component parties in facing GE15, we emphasised that it is important that leaders of all component parties can win the seats they are contesting,” said PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin during a special press conference last Wednesday. 

“The swapping of seats is necessary. For seats won by Bersatu before, PAS may need them now to win in GE15,” he added, as quoted by Malay Mail. 

PEJUANG: MAHATHIR OPEN TO POSSIBILITY OF RETURNING AS PM

Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said that he is open to the possibility of returning as prime minister for the third time.

The 97-year-old said he would consider the matter if the people wanted him to do so and if the Gabungan Tanah Air (GTA) movement wins GE15. As GTA has yet to be registered, all its candidates will run under the Pejuang banner.

"I am still functioning, still capable of moving and talking, besides negotiating, although I am older … I still can work and if there is a request (to be reappointed as the PM), how am I supposed to turn it down?” he was quoted as saying by New Straits Times after chairing a meeting with Langkawi Pejuang division leadership on Tuesday.

Dr Mahathir served as Malaysia’s fourth prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, and as the country’s seventh prime minister for 22 months between 2018 and 2020. 

Earlier, Dr Mahathir said that Pejuang will put him forth as a parliamentarian to defend his ward in Langkawi, Kedah, but not as a candidate for prime minister for GE15. 

Separately, GTA, which is expected to contest at least 120 seats, will be targeting youth votes for GE15. 

Dr Mahathir noted that young voters may not be familiar with the current political situation and therefore need clarification on it.

“They (the GTA election machinery) will try to convince them that Pejuang … will fight for the original struggle of Bersatu,” said Dr Mahathir on Tuesday, as quoted by Bernama. 

“We have found that they (young voters) will only be following their parents’ decision when voting,” he added. 

Source: CNA/ya(aw)

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