Tun M’s new party may face a tough time differentiating itself from Umno’s ideologies: Analyst

10 Aug 2020 / 17:40 H.

PETALING JAYA: A newly formed political party – known as Bebas for now – is just one more Malay-Muslim centric party in a very crowded field.

The party, led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, will be the sixth party that professes to fight for the Malays.

The first four are Umno, PAS, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). The fifth is PKR, which is multi-racial in nature but equally Malay-centric in ideology.

Mahathir’s party, which has yet to be registered, will just be another face in the crowd, according to political scientist Prof Dr Wong Chin Huat.

Wong told theSun yesterday that the field will be even more crowded if regional parties such as Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu of Sarawak and Warisan Sabah are counted.

“The emergence of new parties is inevitable as long as existing parties are tightly controlled and intolerant of rival factions,” he said.

However, he added that some of the parties would just disappear or merge with others after one or two elections.

He said Bersatu and its splinter (Bebas) will have a hard time in “product differentiation” between themselves as well as with Umno, given their identical ideology as Malay nationalist parties.

“The difference would have to be in their tolerance of 1MDB and other corruption cases.”

Wong said in a first-past-the-post political system, whether a party survives would depend on whether they have their own “turf”, or stronghold constituencies.

“Of the six parliamentary seats held by Mahathir’s faction, the votes won in three of them – Kubang Pasu, Jerlun and Sri Gading – were fewer than those won by Umno and PAS combined,” he pointed out.

“That makes them vulnerable.”

He said forming a pact with other parties would bring two advantages – ending vote-splitting and presenting greater appeal and prospects to be the government.

“If Mahathir’s new party cannot avoid multi-corner fights, it will likely be finished after the next elections,” he added.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said it is not for the people to decide whether the political field is too crowded.

“There will always been people forming their own political parties. If they are racially divided, so be it.”

He said the main distinguishing factor between Bersatu and Bebas is Mahathir.

“Bersatu was formed to accommodate Mahathir’s political ambitions. Now he has founded Bebas to continue with his political struggle. It will be his strength and personality that will make the difference,” he added.

Oh said with or without PH or Perikatan Nasional, Mahathir and his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz will win their seats “but it will be difficult for other senior members to win the election”.

Meanwhile, a founding member of Bebas, Datuk Marzuki Yahya, said the response to the formation of the party has been “quite positive”.

“Many members are leaving Bersatu, so this is good for us.”

He said the party will field a candidate in the upcoming Slim by-election but he will stand as an independent. Amanah vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar welcomed the formation of the new party, saying it shows a commitment to fight kleptocracy and to restore the country’s integrity.

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