COMMENTARY, Aug 30 — Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) has a long road ahead before it can gain a foothold in Malaysia’s political scene — if the just-concluded Slim by-election is anything to go by.
The trouncing of its candidate Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi shows that Malaysians are not willing to accept another Malay-based party to muddy the waters further.
While Barisan Nasional chalked up a resounding win with 13,060 votes for Umno candidate Mohd Zaidi Aziz, Amir Khusyairi polled a mere 2,110 votes yesterday.
By comparison, PKR candidate Mohd Amran Ibrahim received 6,144 votes during the last general election 27 months ago.
The 4,000-vote difference is significant when one considers the fact that Slim constituents are predominantly Malay, who are Pejuang’s target audience.
Hence, yesterday’s defeat goes beyond politics and reflects the pioneers’ image and standing in the eyes of voters amid the country’s current political landscape.
From the start, Pejuang was at a disadvantage: It lacked the manpower, finances and strategists to mount a convincing challenge for the seat.
But more importantly, as the campaign progressed, it became apparent that party leaders had lost touch with the ground, including chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who appeared to think ideology was enough to sway voters.
In reality, Slim constituents, while not highly educated, are politically savvy enough to know that picking the right assemblyman can make all the difference to their lives.
Pejuang was formed by Dr Mahathir and his son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, as a viable alternative to Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
However, it has thus far failed to make an impact and its dream is in danger of drifting away.
Yesterday’s pitiful showing — despite Dr Mahathir making an appearance on the campaign trail — indicates that Pejuang may not have what it takes to survive the country’s brutal political arena.
It may also be a sign that Dr Mahathir’s popularity is on the wane.
As it licks its wounds, Pejuang must devise a fresh approach to wooing Malays, as seven by-election wins by PAS and Umno under the official umbrella of Muafakat Nasional (MN) have clearly chipped away at Dr Mahathir’s standing.
In short, he needs to go back to the drawing board and look to his experience to chart a new course for his party.
There’s little doubt that Dr Mahathir will continue fighting, but whether he will have the backing of an army or just generals without soldiers, as was the case in Slim, remains to be seen.