Perikatan leaders’ controversial remarks sting but won’t deter non-Malay allies, say analysts

Datuk Nik Muhammad Zawawi speaks at the 58th PAS Dewan Ulama in Kuantan June 20,2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Datuk Nik Muhammad Zawawi speaks at the 58th PAS Dewan Ulama in Kuantan June 20,2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Two Perikatan Nasional leaders’ remarks that upset the country’s minorities were unlikely to dissuade the coalition’s non-Malay allies from supporting it as they have too much to gain from doing so, according to political analysts.

They acknowledged that PAS MP Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh’s claim that the Bible has been distorted and Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal’s support for the abolition of vernacular schools would alienate non-Malay support.

However, they believe PN allies such as Gabungan Parti Sarawak would be able to tolerate this due to the benefits they derive from backing the informal coalition and the aligned Muafakat Nasional.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Jeniri Amir told Malay Mail that GPS, in particular, could also claim to have no part of such comments as they were not in PN and only supported it.

“Definitely the people here (Sarawak) are not happy with such remarks but would this affect parties like GPS? Not so much.

“They can absolutely distance themselves from the supposed Malay centric politics of West Malaysia while still cooperating with PN or MN,” he said, adding that it was different from when Sarawak parties had been beholden to Barisan Nasional and its lynchpin, Umno.

In Parliament, Nik Zawawi triggered a controversy with his claim that the Bible has been distorted from its original meaning, which he made to support another assertion that all religions forbid the consumption of alcohol.

Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Ahmad Kamal speaks during a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Ahmad Kamal speaks during a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Before that, Bersatu Youth chief Wan Ahmad Fayshal also insisted that vernacular schools — which are guaranteed under the Federal Constitution — should be closed for being obstacles to “strong national identity”.

While both incidents could hurt GPS ahead of the Sarawak election that must be held next year, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Geostrategist Prof Dr Azmi Hassan explained that the payoff for GPS meant it was unlikely to criticise the coalition over these.

Among others, he said backing PN meant GPS need not worry about any of the coalition’s parties encroaching during the Sarawak election and were more likely to receive any federal assistance it needed.

This would put it in a better position to face Pakatan Harapan parties, which he said were far more likely to squabble over seats.

“By PPBM, PAS and Umno opting out of the state election, it will no doubt give a lot of breathing room to GPS to form the state government. So, if the state election to be held before GE15, then GPS aligning with PN is all for the advantage for GPS,” he said.

For parties like MIC and MCA, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun also said they were unlikely to buck despite the clear damage both incidents would cause to their base.

While vernacular schools are a core issue for the Chinese-based MCA, Oh said it and MIC were comfortable with the tokenism of their presence in an overtly Malay PN.

He also said both parties would already have been familiar with such a position from their years in BN when Umno dominated them.

“The argument for them to support PN is to tell their constituencies or potential constituency that, ‘Yes this is a Malay-centric government but imagine if I’m not in there, then it will be even more Malay centric’.

“I think that is the main argument which has been the same argument for both parties for the longest period of time but especially now as it is really a Malay-centric [coalition],’’ he said.

In remarks similar to that of Jeniri, Oh said circumstances have changed significantly since BN lost the 2018 general election, especially for non-Malay parties such as MCA and MIC.

“This is because both MIC and MCA are also gunning for Malay votes. They are gunning for constituencies that are 50:50 non-Malays and Malays. But, of course, Umno also would like to grab those seats, so they would have to sort of ingratiate themselves to Umno,” he said.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia, the Sabah Council of Churches, and Association of Churches in Sarawak have all criticised Nik Zawawi over his claim but he has refused to apologise.

Despite the apparent anger, PN and its leaders have remained largely silent about both controversies.

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