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In Johor, worries about DAP's numbers turning fodder for Umno
Published:  Aug 17, 2017 11:41 PM
Updated: Aug 18, 2017 2:03 AM

The emergence of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has sometimes been framed as a challenge to Amanah.

Once the presumptive party to contest against PAS in Malay-majority seats, it must now share seats with Bersatu.

However, this is not how Amanah views it, at least in Johor, according to an essay by Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

In an essay titled: "Parti Amanah Negara in Johor: Birth, Challenges and Prospects" published by the Yusof Ishak Institute, formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Wan Saiful said Amanah viewed Bersatu as a valuable partner.

Based on interviews and research, Wan Saiful said Amanah's concern was not on whether the party or Bersatu contest more seats but to ensure they both contest more seats than DAP.

"This is to prevent Umno claiming that the DAP would be the dominant party if Harapan won the state.

"This concern comes at the back of Umno’s persistent allegation that the DAP has a hidden agenda to eradicate Malay political power.

"This propaganda seems to have worked among conservative Malay voters, including in Johor," he said.

In the 13th general election, DAP won 13 seats in Johor, followed by PAS and PKR with four seats and one, respectively.

Wan Saiful, in his essay, said Amanah leaders are well aware that this could be Harapan's Achilles heels if not tackled strategically.

"For Amanah, Bersatu is a valuable partner that can reduce Umno’s grip on Malays in rural areas.

"Thus, Amanah feels that Bersatu should be given a respectable number of seats in Malay majority areas, especially in Felda seats, as they have a better chance of winning there.

"Amanah is also open to the possibility of Bersatu being at the forefront of the campaign," he said.

Furthermore, Wan Saiful pointed out that Amanah was better suited in mixed seats, which comprised between 30 percent to 45 percent Chinese voters.

He said that this had also been the case with PAS when it was part of Pakatan Rakyat, where it lost badly to Umno in seats with large Malay-majority, but did better in mixed seats during the 2013 general election.

However, with non-Malays now unlikely to support PAS due to the party refusing to work with Harapan, Wan Saiful warned the party could be decimated if it went alone.

‘Split votes benefit MCA’

Interestingly, Wan Saiful said a beneficiary from PAS' move to enter into multi-cornered fights with BN and Harapan could be MCA.

Wan Saiful pointed out that of the 18 seats won by the opposition in 2013, five were won with a majority of fewer than 2,000 votes and another eight were won with a majority of between 2,000 and 4,000 votes.

"Within the 13 seats, nine are currently held by DAP and they could go to the MCA if PAS’ presence reduces the level of Malay support to the DAP.

"Thus, PAS may inadvertently be giving a lifeline to the ailing Chinese party, at least in some of those seats," he said.

Wan Saiful, during his interviews, also heard complaints from PAS leaders about the party's president Abdul Hadi Awang's cordial relationship with Umno.

"All the lay members of PAS interviewed for this study mentioned that Abdul Hadi’s friendliness with Umno is a thorny issue for them because for decades they have complained of discrimination resulting from alleged Umno policies and practices.

"For them, working with Umno or doing anything that will help that party win is simply unfathomable.

If PAS at the federal level were to forge a partnership with Umno, or become too close to Umno, many more may leave the party," he said.

However, Wan Saiful said the Johor PAS leadership was confident it can persevere.

He attributed this confidence to PAS' view of its self as being more than a political party as members also see it as an Islamic movement.

"This concept is not easily grasped by those analysing the party through a purely secular lens.

"To PAS, even though the splintering of the party is a problem that must be tackled organisationally, it is also God’s way of removing, or 'cleansing', insincere actors from their movement and therefore, it is a positive process despite its potential negative electoral consequences," he said.

The essay also touches extensively on the formation of Amanah and its efforts to gain a foothold in Johor.

The full document can be found here.

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