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For PPBM, PAS and Gerakan – united under the Perikatan Nasional banner – Melaka was a crucial test of its viability. It was a gamble that did not pay off. Overall, PN won a measly 2 of the 28 seats it contested. PPBM won 2 of 15 seats while both PAS and Gerakan (which contested 8 and 5 seats respectively) failed to win even a single seat. Of course, PN leaders made much of the fact that they won more votes than expected but elections, especially in a first-past-the-post system, are all about getting enough votes to pass the finishing line; there are no prizes for coming in second.  

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin who heads PPBM was counting on a convincing performance to cement his own leadership of the coalition and position it as a serious political contender. He can’t be too pleased with the outcome though he might take some satisfaction from the fact that PN was more popular with Malay voters than Pakatan Harapan.

PPBM is, after all, nothing more than a motley collection of has-beens and party-hoppers united not by shared ideals but by common ambition. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir provided the party with at least some gravitas; without Mahathir, its appeal is more limited. And for so long as it remains tied to PAS, it can expect little or no support from non-Malays. I don’t expect it will pose much of a challenge to UMNO-BN come GE15.

Thankfully, PAS – the nation’s most divisive and destructive political party – was resoundingly crushed in Melaka, losing all 8 seats it contested. While it made some gains in the number of votes it won, the message is clear: voters do not trust the party. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who hails from Kelantan – where PAS has held sway since for more than 30 years – opined recently that support for PAS is waning because of their “horrible” track record.

Despite the setback in Melaka, PAS supremo Abdul Hadi Awang (now a freshly minted Tan Sri) seems determined to stick with PPBM even if it means the end of the ‘Muafakat Nasional’ (National Concord) pact with UMNO. It suggests that ultimately PAS sees UMNO as its ultimate rival. Hadi knows that the best he can hope for with UMNO (especially after UMNO’s success in Melaka) is junior status whereas with the much weaker PPBM, he will have, at a minimum, co-equal status. Should UMNO and PAS-PPBM go head-to-head in GE15, it might give PH a slight but welcome edge.

Hadi’s alliance with PPBM has created tensions within his own party. Ambitious PAS leaders who have tasted political power and the perks that go along with it want the party to align with UMNO which has a better chance of winning. Thus far, this faction is not strong enough to challenge Hadi’s grip on power, but it will remain a festering issue in the background.

Of course, with PAS nothing is certain. Tengku Razaleigh famously remarked that PAS is a political prostitute. It is the only party to have slept with all the other parties including the DAP. And who can forget Hadi rushing to offer his support to Mahathir in February 2020. If PPBM’s fortunes continue to slide, don’t be surprised if Hadi once again starts talking about getting together with UMNO for the sake of Malay unity.

As for Gerakan, no one was surprised that it was soundly thrashed. Gerakan, it seems, has not learned a crucial lesson about winning non-Malay support – non-Malays will no longer support any party that aligns itself with PAS, not after all PAS has said and done. 

Melaka was also significant for two other reasons – the thrashing that both independent candidates and party-hopping frogs received. All the party-hoppers were soundly thrashed. Perhaps voters are finally finding the determination to punish those who abandon their own parties for the sake of position and power. While the politicians bicker about the need for an anti-hopping law, the people appear to have spoken.

As for independent candidates, all 28 of them lost and lost badly. If Melaka is any indication of voter attitudes, it spells bad news for the many independent candidates that are hoping to run in GE15. It suggests that voters still prefer to park their vote with established parties who might be able to get things done rather than with independents.

What Melaka tells us is that the country is in a state of transition. The old days when a single party held sway are perhaps over. It is more than likely that UMNO will eventually emerge as the core governing party but it will have to depend on other Malay parties to form the government. Unless Pakatan Harapan can reinvent itself and provide a plurality of Malaysians a more compelling vision for the future, it is doomed to be in permanent opposition. In any case, all talk about reform is moot now. Until better leaders emerge, the country will be stuck in the twilight zone between hope and despair. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 30th December 2021]