THEY were at each other’s throats during the recent by-elections but just days later, it was as though the fight never took place.
Strange things happen in politics but what is happening in the Selangor government is as strange as it gets. DAP and Amanah were slugging it out with PAS in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, but it does not seem to have affected their partnership in the state government.
These people seem able to switch back and forth as friends and enemies. It is like a TV reality show where everything is anything but real.
In hindsight, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali did the smart thing by keeping a low profile in the campaign. The Selangor Mentri Besar will now need to keep a straight face when he chairs the next state exco meeting of frenemies.
Many are looking to Azmin to broker a truce between the parties. But honestly, can things between these parties ever be the same again?
The by-election outcome was a shocker to both sides.
Barisan Nasional and especially Umno was shocked to have won so well. The post-political tsunami years have brought this once mighty coalition back to earth, it has been a humbling lesson and they have learnt not to take the voters for granted.
Pakatan Harapan, on the other hand, was shocked to lose so badly. The big wins in the last two general elections and the public adulation have turned their heads and they are having trouble landing on their feet.
There has been a certain disconnect between Pakatan Harapan leaders and the reality on the ground.
On polling day in Sungai Besar, two Amanah leaders were upbeat and confident that they were about to beat Umno. A university professor who was with them, merely smiled because he did not have the heart to tell them otherwise.
“We are not in denial anymore but neither do we have a solution on how to move forward. The engine is stalled. Can we restart the car or do we need a new car?” said a Pakatan Harapan MP.
The by-elections were the latest wake-up call for Pakatan Harapan. The first was the Teluk Intan by-election and then the Sarawak election.
Azmin: Will he broker a truce for warring parties?
So much discussion has been on how PAS and Amanah had cancelled out each other in the by-elections. But the one most spooked by the results was DAP largely because of the swing in Chinese support back to Barisan.
Barisan secured about 37% of the Chinese vote in Sungai Besar, up from only about 12% in the general election.
In Kuala Kangsar, Barisan won 53% of the votes in the Chinese new village of Jerlun. It was a big win because Pakatan Rakyat won 74% of the votes in Jerlun in 2013. The village had gone from black to white.
A lot of it had to do with Perak MCA chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon who made several rounds of door-to-door campaigns and got the state government to approve land and allocate funds to build a balai raya in the village.
The local folk could sense Dr Mah’s sincerity, and he has been back to the village three times since winning. The first was to thank them, the second to join them for a thank-you dinner and the third to follow up on the projects he promised to bring in.
He feels so at home there that he used a bicycle to go around the village the last time he was there.
“They gave the support and I want to deliver more than they asked for. I am asking for a bigger allocation to do more for the village,” said Dr Mah, who is also a state executive councillor.
To clinch the Chinese vote, he brought MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai to campaign in Jerlun and another Chinese new village known as “Little Genting” because it is on a hill and used to be infamous for its gambling dens.
They brought the human touch which a ceramah cannot replicate.
Liow’s wife Datin Seri Lee Sun Loo grew up not far from “Little Genting”. Her parents were teachers in Kuala Kangsar and a number of the villagers knew her.
The chairperson of the temple in “Little Genting” even took to the microphone to urge the villagers to support Barisan which she described as the “blue sky and white clouds”.
“Our message went down well. We asked them to help empower MCA so that the party can provide the balance in the government.” said Dr Mah.
Jerlun, a DAP politician admitted, went “from our stronghold to our Waterloo”.
The Chinese swing has been the singlemost interesting development in the dual by-elections.
As analyst Rita Sim pointed out, Barisan needs only 25% of the Chinese vote in order to do well in the general election and may even regain its two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Besides, Barisan has never ever been able to gain the majority of Chinese support. Even in the best of times such as the 1995 general election, Barisan secured only 45% of the Chinese vote.
“Malay heartland seats like these will decide the government of the day and Barisan has proven once again that it is the party of choice in such seats,” said Sim.
Only Umno and PAS have the “passport” to such areas.
DAP was clueless on how to move about and Sim said the party seemed to be using a Chinese-led strategy which did not work in the Malay heartland.
They do not realise that it is another kind of Malay world out there just two hours out of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
For instance, the Petaling Jaya kind of Chinese see certain Umno leaders like the party’s Sungai Besar chief Datuk Jamal Yunos as a dangerous Malay extremist.
On the other hand, many Malays in Sungai Besar view DAP’s Lim Kit Siang with suspicion and even label him as “muka Komunis”. That is the sort of polarity in perception going on.
The average DAP leader does not have a clue about how to approach the heartland Malays. Only Umno and PAS are able to feel the pulse in such areas.
How did a seasoned party like DAP misread the ground? Is it because they believe everything they read on the Internet? Or do they think that the rest of Malaysia are like the angry urban Chinese?
The Internet opinion about politics and issues seems so foreign in the rural Malay belt.
It is likely that like politicians everywhere, DAP leaders only believe what they want to believe.
For instance, they had been predicting that PAS and Umno would cannibalise into each other’s base. Instead, PAS and Umno held on to what they had while Amanah cannibalised into the DAP base.
A top DAP leader has insisted that the Chinese voting pattern in the by-elections is a one-off phenomenon. He said the Chinese voters used the polls to get what they wanted and they will vote to change the government in the next general election.
However, a media-shy Datuk whose team had been researching the Chinese ground in Sungai Besar described the PAS hudud law move as the “final cut” for many Chinese.
He said many Chinese are fearful how such laws will affect their lives and the way they do business.
Liew: One-to-one fights not enough to defeat Barisan.
“A few years ago, they thought the future would be better under Pakatan Rakyat. But the dream is broken. My prediction is that this broken dream syndrome will spread,” said the Datuk.
According to the Datuk, the Chinese shift started with the Kajang Move and the manner by which Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was removed.
The urban middleclass did not like it but their dislike for Umno then was stronger than their disapproval of the Kajang Move.
What the opposition alliance do not realise is that many Chinese captains of industry have begun to gravitate back to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak over the last one year.
There have been a series of meetings between them and the Prime Minister. The meetings are seemingly casual breakfasts, lunches or dinners but they are indicative of the shifting sentiments.
According to the Datuk, the dream was over by the time Pakatan Rakyat broke up and PAS went on its own. Only the hardcore supporters still believe the new opposition coalition is en route to Putrajaya.
Just a few months ago, DAP’s Johor chief and Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong were still confident that Johor would fall in the next general election. A few days ago, he said that even if Pakatan Harapan could ensure one-to-one fights, it would not be enough to defeat Barisan.
Pakatan Harapan leaders have spent too much time on political rhetoric and not enough time on real work and service especially in Penang and Selangor. Worse, some of them began to believe their own rhetoric.
The political tsunami has retreated and the political landscape is about to change again. Meanwhile, the debate on who lost the most in the recent polls is still going on.
The collateral damage was greatest on none other than Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Umno has cut off all ties with him, PKR is keeping its distance and only DAP is likely to stay on as his ally.
It is a sad way to go for this great man but he declared the polls as a referendum on Najib and the people have spoken.