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Pakatan’s seat allocations make sense, but is it enough to hurt BN?

The announcement last Sunday by Malaysia’s opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) that it has agreed on parliamentary seat to be contested among its four component parties in Peninsular Malaysia sends a strong signal to the electorate, coming well before any notice of the dissolution of parliament from the government.

Pakatan’s seat allocations make sense, but is it enough to hurt BN?

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrives to visit jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who is recuperating from a surgery at Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 10. It seems clear that the opposition is gunning strongly for the crucial Malay vote, riding on the wave of the Anwar-Mahathir partnership. Photo: Reuters

The announcement last Sunday by Malaysia’s opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) that it has agreed on parliamentary seat to be contested among its four component parties in Peninsular Malaysia sends a strong signal to the electorate, coming well before any notice of the dissolution of parliament from the government.

Compared to the 2013 elections, where seat allocations were being decided at the eleventh hour, the swift negotiations this time around augurs well for an opposition alliance that has not always enjoyed harmony.

The allocations suggest that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will take the lead in Peninsular Malaysia with the most number of allocated seats at 52 and 51 respectively.

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Amanah look to play supporting roles by contesting 35 and 27 seats, as the alliance seeks to take up the slack from the acrimonious departure of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) from the coalition.

It seems clear based on these numbers that PH is gunning strongly for the crucial Malay vote, riding on the wave of the Anwar Ibrahim-Mahathir Mohamad partnership.

With 52 and 51 seat allocated, Bersatu and PKR are expected to lead PH’s attempt to win over the Malay voters.

Both are eyeing Kedah, with each set to contest six seats in the northern state. PKR will seek to improve on their four existing seats while Bersatu will tackle the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) head on, contesting in exclusively Umno seats.

Bersatu, through chairman Dr Mahathir, enjoys some measure of popularity in the state and can be expected to fare well.

The race in Kelantan will shape up to be an interesting one.

PAS will hope to retain control of the northeastern state where it currently holds 31 out of the 45 seats in the state legislative assembly.

It faces a stiff challenge in retaining its seven out of 14 parliamentary seats, facing competition not only from its splinter party Amanah, but also Bersatu and Umno.

Bersatu is expected to contest seven seats while Amanah is likely to contest five. A parallel situation appears likely in Terengganu, with Bersatu again challenging three Umno seats and Amanah contesting three PAS seats.

In Penang, PKR, Bersatu and Amanah will defer to DAP, which leads the way with seven seat allocations.

This is to be expected given strong support for the party since the 2008 elections.

In Perak however, the distribution is more even with Bersatu at eight seats, DAP with seven, and PKR and Amanah with five and four seats respectively. BN now holds 13 out of 24 parliamentary seats in the state and the opposition may make further inroads in the state on the back of a strong challenge by Bersatu.

A FIGHT FOR MALAY VOTES

Selangor represents a key state for PKR and it is here it enjoys its highest allocation with 10 seats, with the second highest allocation in the state going to Amanah with five seats. By comparison, Bersatu will only contest in three seats and in constituencies further away from major urban areas.

A similar story appears in the Federal Territories, with PKR and DAP leading the way with five seats each. Bersatu will seek to contest in the Putrajaya and Titiwangsa seats hoping to score an upset. Meanwhile, Amanah is excluded from the equation altogether with no seat allocations.

The state of Johor characterises perhaps the most interesting political development for the coming elections. Previously considered to be an Umno bastion, the 2013 elections proved that inroads could be made by the opposition as it won five out of the 26 seats.

This year, Bersatu and PKR will contest 10 and eight seats respectively, with DAP bidding for six and Amanah gunning for two.

The popularity of Bersatu president and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin in the state gives the party a fighting chance, while PKR remains poised to upset the balance of power in the state.

It is clear based on the seat allocations that Bersatu will look to strike directly at Umno particularly in rural areas.

The deference to component parties in the coalition in urban areas such as Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor play to Bersatu’s strengths and that of the opposition alliance.

Coupled with the chance for an upset in Johor, this strategy represents the best chance for the opposition to win the required 112 seats to form the government.

Despite presenting itself as a multi-racial party, PKR will similarly have to lean on the Malay vote to consolidate its position as well. These two parties will look to carry most of the weight for the election in a three-way tussle with Umno for Malay votes.

DAP meanwhile will look to maintain its current course, and consolidate support among its core voter base.

It is likely to win most if not all its 35 seat allocations but this will still be short of the 36 seats it secured in the 2013 elections.

Amanah, on the other hand, is likely the biggest loser in the overall seat allocations.

By contesting a meagre total of 27 seats, Amanah’s role has been reduced to merely a foil to PAS.

Its lack of seat allocations in the Federal Territories and Selangor speaks of a damning verdict from the rest of the opposition alliance, and it is no small wonder the majority of dissenting voices within PH comes from the party.

Should it fare badly in the coming elections, Amanah risks being consigned to political irrelevance.

PH’s overall strategy appears to pin opposition hopes of taking Putrajaya on Bersatu’s success. This is no small feat for a party that was only founded in September 2016.

Although this may represent a risk, it also perhaps represents the most realistic hope for the opposition to chip away Barisan Nasional’s control of 133 seats in the 222-seat Parliament.

It remains to be seen whether the popularity of Dr Mahathir is enough to swing the required number of votes in PH’s direction. His naming as the opposition candidate for prime minister has been met with both cheers and boos, and many voters are divided on whether the country should turn to a man on the wrong side of 90s.

Most observers believe the odds are stacked against PH, but it has set itself up to prevent a straightforward triumph for BN.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mr Rashaad Ali is a research analyst at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Malaysia Programme.

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