PN scores big with campaign of clean government, Malay-Muslim unity and tactical moves

KUALA LUMPUR – Perikatan Nasional (PN) scored big in Malaysia’s general election on Saturday by wooing Malay voters away from Barisan Nasional (BN) with its promise of a clean government that will protect Malay-Muslim unity and Bumiputera-affirmative action policies.

The PN coalition, which counts Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as its key components, bagged a total of 73 parliamentary seats, 20 of which analysts say were wrested from BN. Meanwhile Umno-led BN, the country’s longest-ruling coalition, trailed behind with only 30 seats.

Islamist party PAS, who analysts say will grow its influence in the coming years, has emerged a major victor as it more than doubled its parliamentary seats to 49, from merely 18 wins in the previous election in 2018.

Aware that that its partner, the right-wing PAS, may alienate the more liberal urban electorate, PN flew its flags in the developed Klang Valley areas of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, while opting to use the iconic green PAS banners in the conservative east coast states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu. This tactic, say political analysts, served the coalition well at the polls.

BowerGroupAsia senior analyst Arinah Najwa said PN’s flag strategy succeeded as it diluted the PAS branding and made the Islamist party appear moderate in the urban areas.

“This is because PAS joining a coalition would give an impression that the party is not as extreme as the voter thought. While in the east coast, PAS flags, which have been associated with Islam, worked well,” she said.

She noted that in the Klang Valley, some voters were not aware that PAS was part of the PN coalition as it used PN flags. “So in this case, it was definitely the case of voters preferring the flag rather than an individual,” she added.

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Looking at its election success, political analysts believe that PN, led by former Umno veteran Muhyiddin Yassin, has become a formidable alternative to Umno, which has seen its support among the Malay majority eroded since its shocking defeat at the 2018 general election.

BowerGroupAsia senior analyst Hafidzi Razali said the support for the PN alliance among the Malays is also contributed by Malay fence-sitters and the influx of new voters after the voting age was lowered to 18 and the country implemented automatic voter registration.

“When combined with PN’s existing voter base, especially from PAS, PN became a remarkable force against Umno,” said Mr Hafidzi. “PN’s ability to win the Malay narrative was partly contributed by the notion of Malay-Islam unity (and) experience of having led at state and federal government,” he added.

Umno’s infighting and graft-tainted reputation was also seized upon by PN to its advantage.

Malaysian think-tank Ideas research executive Halmie Azrie Abdul Halim said PN was able to leverage on the infighting within Umno, which was reflected during Nomination Day when many candidates aligned to former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob were axed by Umno president Zahid Hamidi.

A key example was former Perlis chief minister and Umno stalwart Shahidan Kassim, who broke ranks with the party when he was dropped from the Arau parliamentary seat. PN offered him the same seat to contest in and he won, adding to PN’s haul. Tan Sri Shahidan also used his strong influence to campaign for PN in the Perlis state election, resulting in it winning 14 of the 15 wards in play and wiping out BN from the state assembly entirely.

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