Petrol prices have gone up by 20 sen again while government hospitals have increased their charges. This means the next general election (GE14) is unlikely to be held in April, because the ruling coalition does not have sufficient time to create the “feel good” atmosphere within such a short period of time.
Besides, the Umno divisional and branch meetings will be held earlier than scheduled, and the government will need time to manage the Felda issue.
As such, if GE14 is to be held this year, it will very likely be in September, after the country celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence on Aug 31.
Another reason GE14 will not be held in April is that Umno is still trying to consolidate its Malay vote bank as the party faces challenges from both PAS and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
After the thumping victory in the twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar last year, Umno seems to have found the formula of retaining its grip on the federal administration, that is, by creating three-cornered fights with a little help from PAS that will give Umno more seats than what it won in 2013.
Not surprisingly Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in the Umno general assembly last December that the federal government was prepared to take over PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s Private Member’s Bill on the amendment to the shariah law act, in a bid to secure the goodwill of PAS.
All things looked set until Jan 27 when Najib said, after officiating the Umno Supreme Council meeting that the cooperation with PAS was only confined to Muslim and Islamic issues, and did not involve politics.
Najib also fell short of announcing whether Umno would take part in PAS’ rally in support of the amendment to the shariah law act on Feb 18. Such an ambiguous stand has frustrated the Islamist party.
On Feb 1, PAS had a closed door meeting with PPBM leaders over the cooperation between the two parties. PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim and his PPBM counterpart Mukhriz Mahathir issued a joint statement after the meeting, saying that the two parties had agreed to set up a joint technical committee to follow up on their political cooperation.
Apparently, PAS is adopting a “please all” strategy. By working with PPBM, it aims to warn Umno that if you are not serious about helping us amend the shariah law act, we’ll go with your rivals.
While PAS has reached some consensus with PPBM over the political cooperation to bog down BN, Hadi claimed they only met on PPBM’s invitation and no agreement on fighting BN together had been achieved.
Meanwhile, Hadi was absent from the ceremony to send off the humanitarian ship (food flotilla) for the Rohingyas on Feb 3, saying he was in hospital for medical examination.
Hadi’s refusal to join Najib in the event might be meant to deliver a certain message, even though Najib was still heard chanting “Muslim solidarity” in his speech.
As a matter of fact, there is disagreement within PAS whether to work with Umno and help it retain the federal administration. While there are chances Umno will help PAS push through its hudud agenda, some in the party worry PAS could be washed out altogether in the general election.
Analysis shows that the support of Umno in rural areas has declined to 40%, more than 30% for PAS and about 20% for PPBM.
Hence, a three-cornered fight will only benefit Umno at the expense of PAS. As such, there are some within PAS who feel that the party should instead take advantage of a weakened Umno to set its sights on Putrajaya.
If PAS cannot even keep Kelantan, it will be powerless to implement hudud in the state even if the shariah law amendment is passed in the Dewan Rakyat.
In PAS, Hadi is seen as more pro-Najib while his deputy Tuan Ibrahim is seen to be taking the opposite position.
Will Umno give up Kelantan and Terengganu in exchange for PAS’ consent to create three-cornered fights in GE14? Will all quarters within PAS come together and agree on such a tie-up with Umno?
These are the two questions that will determine whether the two parties eventually work together.
Both PKR and PPBM will never risk giving up PAS. Although PPBM can make steady inroads into the rural areas and Felda settlements alone, it still needs a hand from PAS.
In the meantime, DAP is making adjustments to its attitude on Islamic issues in order to make significant breakthroughs among Malay voters.
To the opposition, it is believed that GE14 will see a “Malay tsunami”. But, will the hushed reactions among the majority Malays now signal a calm before the storm?