A wake-up call for Pas

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The proposal for “unity talks” between Umno and Pas may have led to the latter’s poorer showing in the in Manek Urai by-election, suggests Anil Netto.

 

The Manek Urai by-election result on 14 July reveals that the BN has made some inroads, especially in some rural Malay areas, building on its Malay heartland gains in Bukit Gantang, since the 2008 general election.

In the 2008 general election, Pas defeated the BN by a 1,352 majority in Manek Urai. This time, Pas retained the seat by a whisker: a 65-vote majority.

Prime Minister Najib was quick to claim a moral victory. He said “a change had begun” and it  marked the return of the people’s confidence in the BN:”There has been a large swing factor in Manek Urai. This is particularly gratifying because we are dealing with a part of the Malay heartland.”

Umno leaders desperately wanted Manek Urai to reverse the by-election trend of Pakatan retaining their seats on the peninsula by larger majorities (compared with the general election result). If they couldn’t secure a win, a close fight would do nicely, thank you very much – and they got that.

Najib’s public relations initiatives, changes in the language education policy, and the usually wave of support for an incoming PM may have helped in reducing Pas’ winning majority. (But whatever positive effects arising from these factors would have been neutralised somewhat by the outrage following the tragic death of political secretary Teoh Beng Hock at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in questionable circumstances.)

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Others pointed out that alleged vote-buying and promises of development including a much-talked about bridge could have swayed some votes.

But an online poll on my blog showed that many Malaysians felt that the proposed unity talks between Pas and Umno was the largest factor accounting for Pas’ poorer performance.

While Pakatan supporters might not have taken too kindly to such talks, some fence-sitters in Manek Urai may genuinely have felt that greater unity among Muslims might not be a bad thing. Such a proposal may even have blurred the ideological distinction between the two parties among the more easily swayed voters.  Thus, they could have divided their support between Pas and Umno this time around.  Some loyal Pakatan supporters too may have shown their displeasure over Pas’ rapprochement with Umno.

Then there was the factionalism within Pas over whether the party should stick with the Pakatan Rakyat or engage in unity talks (or “intellectual discourse” or whatever you may call it) with Umno. The lack of party unity could have weakened the Pas campaign and cost it votes.

In the end, a party that is unsure about who its real allies are and what it stands for – a more progressive, inclusive approach or a more conservative, communal stance – will have a hard time convincing voters why they should vote for it. And that, to some extent, explains the reduced majority for Pas at Manek Urai.

It’s a wake-up call for Pas to return to the new, more enlightened path towards progressive new politics.

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