Muhyiddin’s push for the Malay Ground

WHAT kind of campaigning can we expect in the six impending state elections? The short answer is that race and religion will take centre stage. 

Judging from their early salvo, Perikatan Nasional (PN) will be honing on those two planks with an almost singular focus to sweep each and every Malay vote that they can garner. 

From now till voting day, PAS and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia — the duo powering the PN coalition led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin — will be laser-focused on the Malay electorate. 

“If the Malay voters come out 100%, in every constituency…then just you witness what will happen. We will be in for a delight. We will sweep all seats,” Muhyiddin told a gathering in Senawang, Negri Sembilan, on June 10. It was meant to be the first major salvo in their election campaign to wrest the state from Pakatan Harapan (PH). 

For all his bravado on that Saturday night, Muhyiddin and the PN team will be hard-pressed to deliver on their “sapu bersih” rhetoric as far as Negri Sembilan is concerned. 

At the conclusion of the 2018 Negri Sembilan state elections, PH won 20 seats out of the 36 seats up for grabs. DAP contributed the lion’s share, winning all the 11 seats it contested. PKR contributed six seats (out of the 11 it contested) and Amanah won three (out of the six it contested). 

The remaining 16 went to Barisan Nasional (BN), with Umno winning 15 and MIC one. As per the BN game plan before their spectacular fall from federal power, Umno amassed most of the seats for itself. In 2013, it contested for 22 seats, with MCA taking 10, and two each for MIC and Gerakan. 

Bersatu was part of the PH coalition back then. It was given seven seats, but lost them all. On the other side of the 2013 battle, PAS contested in 27 seats and lost them all, too. 

The terrain is starkly different this time around. We have the PH-BN coalition of coalitions at the federal level, steered by Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. 

Bersatu and PAS, foes in the 2013 battle, are now best of pals as they sharpen their knives and reload their ammunition. In tow with them is Gerakan, literally PN’s flower pot for racial unity. Otherwise, it’s largely a band of Malay forces at work. 

In Senawang, Muhyiddin was talking directly to the Malays, and the Malays alone. He made some token remarks on the races that make up Malaysia, but they were clearly not within his script for that day. He remained raptly focused on the Malays. 

And so was the line-up on the stage. Among the PN bigwigs were PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, PN Negri Sembilan chairman Datuk Seri Faizal Azumu and PN information head Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali. 

The former PM talked about the hardship that the rakyat is enduring and how the PH-BN government has failed them. He reminded the people about how the government that he led had saved the day during the Covid-19 pandemic days. 

For good measure, he reminded the people of the billions of ringgit that went into the various economic packages during the pandemic days. 

This time around, he made mention that a big chunk of the money came from people’s own retirement savings in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and the restructuring of their loan payments. In the past, they would let big numbers fly, letting it pass as though those were the actual numbers injected directly into the economy. 

But, as expected, Muhyiddin conveniently left out any mention of how he and fellow senior ministers like Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin and Azmin avoided claiming legitimacy on the floors of the Parliament. And, to give the message a booster, Muhyiddin likened the state elections to a referendum that “will shake Putrajaya”. 

You can expect the Senawang storyline to hit the campaign trails for Selangor and, to some extent, Penang. 

In the other three states — Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah — the Malay story is a given. These states are part of the Malay and Muslim belt. Here, they will try to portray Anwar and his unity government as a bunch of politicians who are detrimental to the well-being of the Malay Muslims. 

Aside from a Malay-centric storyline, expect also half-truths lobbied as hard facts. Just look at the way Abdul Hadi’s recent suggestion that the Anwar government had made overtures to his party to join the unity government. The incident was serious enough to send Anwar and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi scrambling to deny them. 

But it turned out that Abdul Hadi was being economical with the truth, holding back vital information that skewed the story. He allowed the half-baked story to gain legs. 

After allowing it to simmer for some time, only then he clarified that the overture was not recent, but at the conclusion of the last general election. Naughty, naughty. More so for someone who portrays himself as a religious leader. 

So, expect such tactics in the impending state elections. The media-heavy on political coverage will do us all a favour if they perform robust fact-checks on such claims in the days and weeks to come. 

Politicians being politicians, they will do what they need to do to garner votes. We can only hope that some sense and sanity will prevail as they weaponise race and religion. 

  • Habhajan Singh is the corporate editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition