Tanjung Piai — the brink of many, for many and by many

pic by BERNAMA

IF BY now Johor Umno chief Datuk Hasni Mohammad has not regretted mocking the age of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) candidate for the Tanjung Piai by-election, then views that most Umno leaders had not learnt much from the defeat of the 2018 polls seem to hold true.

Hasni in his mock said he hoped that there would not be another by-election next year as Bersatu’s Karmaine Sardini, 66, is going to be 67 then, adding that elections are tiring.

Such scripts were quite commonplace in the 2018 election campaign, and the obvious target was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) prime minister (PM)-elect.

Chief among those mocking Dr Mahathir’s quest concerning his age was PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak. And Dr Mahathir went on to be the oldest PM the world had ever witnessed, while Najib became one of the many other heads of government who are facing trial for corruption.

While insults, unlike sticks and stones, are incapable of breaking anyone’s bones, Hasni’s reflected the attitude of most Umno leaders post-May 2018.

Despite the revelations upon revelations of the financial shenanigans committed by their top leaders, neither shame nor remorse for their unquestioning support for their scandalised then and seems to continue even until today.

There is a theory as to why these second-tier Umno leaders continue to support the vanquished ones and seemingly unrepentant and oblivious to what was being paraded for the world to scorn.

If they were to admit and show remorse, then they would lose any sense of worth and no basis to continue holding on to their positions in the party.

Being professional politicians, having lost the government, the only salvation is to hang on to what little power they have and hope that if the current government falters and stumbles, the door may just open for them for the possibilities of making a return.

And they may also hang on to the belief that voters have short memories and scandals only last for a term and new scandals will emerge for the new term.

Regardless, whether Hasni’s mock is of essence or otherwise, the Tanjung Piai by-election promises the breaking of numerous political perimeters that were thought to have been established these past few months.

For one, the fielding of MCA’s Wee Jeck Seng as Barisan Nasional’s candidate despite the seat being predominantly Malay raised the questions as to how such a decision stands in the path of the PAS and Umno’s which had been widely accepted by their supporters as being promoting the Malay-Muslim primacy.

Further to that, sentiments accompanying the PAS and Umno alliance included the campaign of boycotting non-Muslim products which caused quite a stir and was later watered down to the Buy Muslim First or BMF campaign.

Now, Umno and PAS detractors are questioning how would the BMF campaign fit into the candidacy of MCA’s Wee? Would it mean that their supporters should consider voting Muslim first or that the spirit of the BMF takes a break just for the Tanjung Piai by-election period?

Further to that, prior to this, Umno and PAS had been accusing Bersatu and other Malay leaders in PH as being weak and subject to the demands of the DAP.

It is a public secret that Umno had agreed to the MCA candidacy after the latter threatened to withdraw from the BN if their candidate was not nominated.

Before that, the Tanjung Piai Umno division too, had issued an ultimatum — if the seat was not contested by Umno and given to the MCA, their branches would boycott the by-election.

Now that the decision has been made, the campaigners and canvassers will be keeping a close eye on all these threats.

While that conundrum afflicts the Malay voters in particular Umno’s and PAS’s, the non-Malays will also have to wonder whether they would want to vote for the MCA candidate given the insignificant position and the dichotomy of its existence amidst the PAS-Umno MalayMuslim predominance.

For PH, in particular, Bersatu, it is to further its efforts to regain its standing among the Malays while offering itself as still being the best bet for the Malay and non-Malay within the coalition.

It is still saddled with the stigma that it has not been able to pursue the Malay interest. To a lot of degree, whether self-inflicted or through effective campaign, the DAP had been quite successfully demonised as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, definitely an anathema in a Malay majority seat.

On the sidelines, eyes are also on PKR and its commitments to the campaign as some from within, who are pushing for an early succession of their president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, are of the opinion that Bersatu’s defeat in Tanjung Piai will hasten Dr Mahathir’s stepping down as the PM.

But for Dr Mahathir and Bersatu supporters, Tanjung Piai is not the waterloo for either but rather the test for PH formula and whether it is still collectively capable of holding the fort.

Any attempt to use the result to push out Bersatu and Dr Mahathir will render the coalition without a strong Malay representation and effectively falling into the hands of PH’s and in particular DAP’s detractors.

In Tanjung Piai, the southernmost end of Asia, all these are being dissected. Placed on such a brink, someone is bound to tip over. The question is who.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.