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This whole election campaign was instigated by UMNO president Zahid Hamidi and the court cluster. For months they pushed, agitated and schemed to have early elections. They were so desperate for early elections that they were even willing to endanger the lives of Malaysians by pushing for elections first during the height of the Covid pandemic and now during the monsoon season. 

One would have thought that after all that, they would be better prepared. Reports coming in from the campaign trail across the country, however, suggest that after only one week, their campaign is faltering, if not falling apart.

Zahid is proving to be a singularly poor leader. He has been unable to rally his troops or even provide a coherent campaign strategy. His decision to drop powerful figures in his party not aligned to him has left his party bitterly divided. Khairy Jamaluddin (Sungai Buloh) is openly feuding with him. Noh Omar (former Tanjong Karang MP) says his seat was stolen from him. Former Perlis menteri besar Shahidan Kassim (Arau) is now standing on a PN ticket. 

Zahid suddenly finds himself fighting a battle on two fronts at the same time – Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional without and disgruntled warlords within. 

With all the infighting going on, the BN campaign is in disarray. Attendance at BN rallies and ceramahs is down almost everywhere. Visit any number of UMNO campaign posts and the lack of enthusiasm among its staff becomes quickly evident. It stands in sharp contrast with the mood of optimism among PH supporters.

In Bangsar, I am even beginning to see the same kind of disarray that set in in the final days of the 2018 BN campaign – a decided lack of enthusiasm and excitement, sparse crowds, disinterested party workers. And this against a well-organized and determined campaign run by the Pakatan Harapan incumbent.

And then there’s the question of money or the lack of it. While the PH campaign is driven largely by unpaid volunteers, BN has to pay to play.  There’s less money to throw around this time on lavish meals at ceramahs or pay election staff. Remember, it costs RM8 to put up each flag (not counting the cost of the flag itself). Even in Kuala Selangor where caretaker finance minister Tengku Zafrul is running, I came across a hill of BN flags (see photo) dumped on the side of a road; it left me wondering if they had run out of money to put them up. 

But most of all, Zahid himself is proving to be his party’s biggest hindrance. His ambitions to become prime minister despite the dozens of criminal charges against him have caused deep alarm amongst voters. Who in his right mind would want a man with so many criminal charges hanging over him to become prime minister? As well, the idea that he might use an electoral victory to finesse his way out of the criminal charges against him is simply too much for voters.  

Consequently, unlike in previous elections when the UMNO president was everywhere, many UMNO candidates prefer Zahid not campaign for them at all. It is a measure of just how unpopular he is and just how much of a liability he has become. It’s every man for himself now as UMNO-BN candidates fight for their own survival.

Zahid may not be safe even in his own constituency of Bagan Datoh, which I visited yesterday. Voters there lament the lack of development and poor infrastructure and are questioning what he has done for them despite being their MP since 1995. It is not hard to understand why. Parts of the area are regularly inundated. Roads are poorly maintained. The economy is sluggish. People are struggling. There’s talk that he could lose his seat; even members of his own party are hoping he’ll lose.

Given all this, Pakatan Harapan’s chances of forming the next government look better which each passing day. UMNO-BN is losing momentum while Pakatan Harapan is surging forward with a better campaign, more credible leaders and a more appealing manifesto.  It is now looking certain that Pakatan Harapan will emerge as the largest single party in the next parliament; it might even make it past the finish line with a simple majority.

GE15 might well turn out to be another huge debacle for UMNO and its unpopular president. Hurrah for Malaysia!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 14 November 2022]