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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A roadmap forward without PAS

There comes a time in a writer’s life when s/he has to yield to what is increasingly evident.
I still hope that one day DAP and PAS will sit in the same coalition, working hand in hand towards a common goal.
I like this dream because it represents a closing of the gap between two of the most divided ends of the spectrum we have in this nation.
Nevertheless, if it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen - even people like me, probably seen as PAS apologists, will basically have to move on.
Now that PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang has announced that PAS will not work with anyone that is working with DAP and Amanah, we’re probably looking at the near final nail in the coffin.
Amanah is of less importance, but rejecting DAP out of hand - problematic though they undoubtedly are - is a deeper rejection of a much larger segment of Malaysians.
Looking at the continuing efforts with Act 355, perhaps Hadi’s reasoning is that a religious party like PAS should team up with any side that is willing to help that achieve their goal of bringing mosque and state closer together.
So, while I will continue to hope for some sort of reconciliation someday, I thought it might be beneficial to flesh out what some of the best ways to approach the next election will be, assuming PAS ends up going it alone.
Preventing a PAS-Umno electoral deal
First, we should be clear about goals. This article presumes that the primary goal for the opposition is to win as many seats as possible. The secondary goal it presumes is to help establish Bersatu and Amanah as viable political parties.
I think the following key strategic thrusts are the ones most likely to realise these goals: first, do not allow any seats to be one-on-one contests between PAS and Umno; second, do not apportion resources as if every seat were winnable; third, PKR and DAP must concede some easily winnable seats to Bersatu and Amanah.
A feared scenario is that PAS and Umno reach an electoral understanding, possibly after nomination day, in which they divide seats up between each other.
If there are a large number of seats where PAS and Umno are the only ones fielding candidates, this will allow a deal to be engineered - one which could see both parties splitting seats between them without having to contest at all.
This can be done by one party’s candidate withdrawing from contesting a given seat, in exchange for the other party doing the same in another seat.
This would allow Barisan Nasional to focus all its resources on the remaining seats in which it is contesting against the remaining opposition parties.
Only invest in winnable seats
Secondly, while the strategy above means that candidates must be fielded in almost every seat, this does not mean that Bersatu and Pakatan Harapan should invest their resources as if they expect to win each seat.
Three-cornering any seat that is contested by both Umno and PAS simply gives voters who cannot stomach either PAS or Umno someone else to vote for, and forces PAS/Umno to still invest resources and put up a fight in order to win the seat (rather than get a walkover, thanks to any deal that may have been struck).
Bersatu and Harapan should exercise great case in determining which seats they actually stand a chance in, and look to invest their resources accordingly.
This is tough for those suicide mission soldiers being sent to contest in unwinnable seats, but in a war like this, sacrifices must be made to achieve the larger objective.
DAP/PKR giving seats to Bersatu/Amanah
Thirdly, Bersatu and Amanah will never emerge as a viable force, if they are not given some safe seats.
In today’s political climate, that generally means urban seats with large numbers of non-Malay constituents - seats traditionally contested by DAP and to a lesser extent, PKR.
If these two parties are serious about building a long term coalition without PAS, then they need to build a political entity viable enough to fill the void that PAS leaves.
If Bersatu or Amanah are sent only to the lion’s den - rural strongholds in which Umno’s only real challenger has ever been PAS - then we are likely to see no successfully elected representatives from either party.
This in turn will cause the talk on the street to be that these two parties are irrelevant, and in politics, the talk on the street matters.
Facing reality
It remains to be seen whether DAP or PKR are long-sighted enough to be able to make these sacrifices.
I also don’t know enough about East Malaysian politics to comment intelligently on a good strategy for Sabah and Sarawak, but needless to say, the huge number of parliamentary seats there mean any holistic strategy must incorporate these two states in a big way.
I continue to mourn the fact that Hadi and those that follow him have made the decisions they have. A lot of people from a lot of different parties are culpable for making things this way.
That said, this is looking increasingly like the reality we will just have to deal with.

If so, then anyone interested in a good showing by the opposition in GE14 needs to start having concrete discussions about exactly how this is going to be achieved. Doing so in a transparent manner is likely to help.

NATHANIEL TAN is hoping for justice in the death in custody case of S Balamurugan.- Mkini

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