Anwar's quest for validation and the Malays who smiled at him

03 May 2023 03:08pm
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It is a contest that will neither change the equation of his administration nor turn the tides against his rule, but the country’s man of the hour seemed heavily invested in it.

So much so, that Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has fixed a series of back-to-back Raya open house feasts in the six states set to face the poll in a couple of more months.

And in typical Malaysian politics, these festive Madani-themed government-sponsored interstate banquets came with the usual disclaimer – that they were devoid of any political undertones.

Ah. How reassuring but alas, to politically savvy Malaysians, ‘tis a proviso best suited to be told to the marines instead.

Okay then, let's move past the feeble attempt to conceal the motive behind the Raya open houses tour and focus on why the upcoming state elections may not dent those in power.

To put things into perspective, the mashup government of Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) already control six states.

These states are Johor, Melaka, Perak, Pahang, Sabah, and Sarawak.

Whereas their political nemesis, Perikatan Nasional (PN), currently only has one state under its belt: the tiny and northernmost state of Perlis.

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The six coveted states that will be put to the contest in the coming elections are Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, and Selangor.

And of the six, there are almost no indications that the latter two states will fall to PN because while the Malays are still the majority there, the non-Malays – who are mostly ardent supporters of Pakatan – still make up a large chunk of the voters in Penang and Selangor.

In fact, Pakatan will likely continue its uninterrupted rule in Penang and Selangor – that began 15 years ago – despite the palpable disenchantment and dissatisfaction among its supporters borne of the many contentious development projects greenlit by state governments.

A case in point, for example, would be the environmentally controversial reclamation projects of the Penang South Islands and the Selangor Maritime Gateway.

The same Pakatan-favourable forecast, however, will unlikely be the case for Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah.

These three states are predominantly Malay -- overwhelmingly so – and the political dynamics are rather different from the central and southern regions in the Peninsula.

Here, electoral bouts have always been between Pas and Umno with the latter being severely trounced by the former in the 15th General Election (GE15) where Umno won zero parliamentary seats in the three states.

And if the Malays there have given Umno – a party with formidable clout and presence dating back since pre-Merdeka – a one-way ticket to political oblivion seven months ago, even a political novice should be able to predict the outcome of the coming polls in these three states.

But even if PN wins Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah, the coalition will only control four states.

And if Pakatan retains its rule on Negeri Sembilan – which it could, given Pas’ weak clout and Umno’s strong presence there, where the latter won five of the eight parliamentary seats in GE15 – the ruling coalition will have a total of nine states under its grasp.

Nine against four. Percentagewise, that’s 69.2 per cent versus 30.7 per cent.

So, technically even if PN wins Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah, Anwar's rule in Putrajaya is still pretty much solid – assuming if he can continue to glue the current motley political dalliance of former enemies.

Nonetheless, a victory in the three Malay heartlands would bestow upon Anwar the greatest bragging rights.

One which he can deftly wield to finally silence detractors who harping on his "unpopularity" among the Malays, which is not without merit given his 24-year-old long struggle to be PM.

Perhaps, this is an opportunity too tantalising for Anwar to ignore; after all, everyone knows that not a single party won GE15, hence the hung parliament; hence the mashup PH-BN-GPS-GRS government.

On April 29, Anwar was greeted with a warm welcome and inviting smiles from hundreds of Kedahans who attended the Malaysia Madani Raya Open House in Alor Setar.

Even the cantankerous Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor of PAS – who has been trading barbs with him – greeted Anwar with a friendly grin.

But, of course, those familiar with Malay politics would attest that – in this context – a smile from a Malay is just a smile. It neither connotes nor denotes support or endorsement.

And woe betide those who read too much into it.

Fortunately for Anwar, he is no stranger to backbiting and betrayals.