What Malacca political battle means to all parties

For some victory would brighten GE15 chances, for others oblivion.

COMMENT | The founding of Malacca in 1400 was filled with elements of the supernatural. The last king of Singapura was impressed by the courage of a mousedeer, and thought the Melaka tree, the closeness to the sea or the special powers of the hills gave him the spirit to found a new kingdom after Srivijaya.

His predictions came true because Malacca succeeded where earlier Muslim kingdoms could not – transforming ‘seven or eight fishing huts’ into a world-famous city that had ‘no equal in the world’.

Coincidentally, the upcoming Malacca state election is an open experiment to all parties involved. A mid-term timing, a multi-ethnic composition mirroring the Peninsula, and the removal of superfluous elements of on-the-ground campaigning, Malacca promises a foretelling of GE15.

Pakatan Harapan

For Pakatan Harapan, the Malacca state election is a test of voter stickiness to the coalition. Without ground-shifting scandals like 1MDB and highly unpopular policies like GST, how many voters would still choose Harapan in this state election?

A mostly-urban Harapan voter group would like to believe that they vote on principles. Unlike other voter groups, Harapan voters will not stick to a party or coalition if its leaders have acted against their purest beliefs.

Harapan diehards have always been regarded as smaller compared to other mainstream parties.

A three-cornered fight is the same scenerio as in GE14. Harapan is also offering the same formula for combat.

The three component parties are unchanged; coalition importance outweighs individual candidates (by fielding new faces); and they are relying on a magical reinforcement of an ex-rival (Idris Haron in Malacca and Dr Mahathir Mohamad in GE14) to clinch a victory.

Harapan knows that it is the underdog in this election. The best outcome is knowing that its diehard voter base exceeds 20 percent because that will indicate how close it is to Putrajaya.

If Malacca delivers half the seats of 2018 or fewer, there would be an urgent need to turn around the coalition entirely.


Malacca is a must-win for Umno. The main test is whether it could go to GE15 alone. Keeping the door open for PAS indicates Umno’s uncertainty of a convincing victory.

All rungs of the party rely on a majority to shore up their spirits and a domino voter support to win GE15.

Umno is relying on at least two factors to win. One, a cry for stability by returning to the familiar Umno after a substantial period of political turmoil.

Two, the existing electoral largesse in the form of on-the-ground machinery, financing, party experience, and a large pool of candidates.

In a fragmented political landscape, a single-party majority would be considered a landslide. If that happens, Umno could gradually cut ties with PAS and Perikatan Nasional by skipping the pleasantries and compromises, starting by ousting non-Umno cabinet members and closing the door on seat negotiations in GE15.

Any result short of that would require Umno to continue engaging with the tiresome rounds of negotiations with a disloyal PAS – and potentially the unsavoury Bersatu – and Malacca would indicate the extent of that tug-of-war.


For PAS, Malacca is a quest to consolidate its position as the de facto kingmaker in Malaysian politics.

Self-anointed and repeatedly proclaimed, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang sees the highest achievement as being part of the government in whatever form and at whatever price. Its party is packed with Hadi loyalists, and its members justify their pursuits through Venn diagrams and non-commitments, all through a thinning Islamic veneer.

For us, this is an experiment of how far a niche party could go. Without competent leaders, policy contribution or a clear direction, PAS has thrived on its niche of being the only Islamic party, which makes it highly in demand as a supplemental force

Will PAS be forever guaranteed a small but significant number of seats? Or will niche parties also require good leaders to absorb a certain number of votes? Malacca will tell.


The biggest test for Bersatu is to avoid a wipeout. Due to its gross similarity to the elderly Umno, analysts are predicting a total wipeout of the five-year-old party.

Bersatu’s leaders have openly invited Umno to join forces to no avail – inadvertently revealing a desperation and an insecurity that have become their dominant trait.

Worse, Bersatu will be going into Malacca having lost its key advantages. One, its founder and GE14 figurehead Mahathir. Two, losing its prime ministership advantage to Umno twice.

If Bersatu is wiped out, it could anticipate three unfortunate events taking place sequentially or simultaneously: stripping of positions in federal and state governments, the departure of PAS from PN, and standing alone in GE15.

However, in the event Bersatu survives with a handful of seats won, this would already be a victory.

The top-heavy, bottom-light party would continue to engage in elite bargaining and take the scraps to carve out a niche beyond its indigenous or Malay-Muslim brand, essentially making PN a kingmaker coalition.

MCA, MIC, Gerakan

For the smaller parties like MCA, MIC, and Gerakan that have long accepted their subjugation, the main test is to not screw up. They are parties that essentially rely on spillover or protest votes.

The best-case scenario is a group of frustrated voters sizeable enough to deliver a few seats, and the unknown candidates put up start to look passable. This would give their brand a revival chance.

The worst and likely case is that they will win none and continue to be a token minority party that struggles to find anyone who is willing to stand on its ticket.

The basic rule is to avoid gaffes. This is proving more difficult than imagined.

Malacca was never an innocent tale. How much could it foretell our future?

By : JAMES CHAI (Political analyst. He also blogs at http://www.jameschai.com.my and he can be reached at jameschai.mpuk@gmail.com) – MALAYSIAKINI

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer.

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