Harris Zainul was quoted by the Malay Mail

By Milad Hassandarvish,  4 January 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 — The seemingly endless political turmoil in the country has caused severance among political leaders and parties over the past few months.

The downfall of the 22-months-old Pakatan Harapan coalition in March last year led to the formation of two new political parties — Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) and Malaysia United Democratic Alliance (Muda).

Although Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in September announced he would not be contesting the 15th general election (GE15) due to his age, the 95-year-old former premier walked back his claim shortly after and hinted that he may lead his newly formed Malay-based Pejuang into the next general election.

On the other hand, former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman — who was the lynchpin behind the Undi 18 movement — is poised to lead his youth-centric party Muda in GE15.

Both Pejuang and Muda leaders submitted an application to the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in August and September last year respectively to register their party.

But, despite months of anticipation, both parties have yet to receive any updates on the registration from RoS.

Both parties were formed despite Dr Mahathir’s earlier dissatisfaction over the crowded political scene with too many political parties that “had caused instability in the country”.

With that in mind, how much of a difference could both Pejuang and Muda make if the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition calls for a snap election this year should the Covid-19 situation permit?

According to Institute of Strategic and International Studies analyst Harris Zainul, it is still early to determine if Pejuang or Muda would be effective in the long run.

“At the moment, we don’t know where their policy stand is going to be.

“Where are they going to stand on the issues of Bumiputera policies or the economy?

“Are they going to be more pro-welfare or pro-business?” he asked.

Commenting on Muda, Harris said having a youth-centric party is good but to determine whether they are going to make a difference [in the general election] goes beyond just representations.

He also noted that any new political party will take a while to build-up on its membership, grassroots and have the right machinery to win an election.

“Having the right machinery in place takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

“Hence, the longer the current government holds on to the term of GE14, the more time is given to younger political parties like Pejuang and Muda to build that machinery.

“So, from a purely political standpoint, the faster the current government calls for GE15, the more disadvantage the new political parties would have in the election,” said Harris.

Although both parties are still new with little grassroots and machinery in place, there are still possibilities of either party to join forces with a more established party or coalition to ride on their machinery — a mechanism that proved effective for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in GE14.

However, Harris pointed out that Muda may have a more unique selling point (USP) to play as an alternative choice to some of the established coalitions.

“My reading is that Muda will be contesting as an alternative choice to Barisan Nasional, Muafakat Nasional, Perikatan Nasional and even Pakatan Harapan.

“This alternative choice is probably going to be their USP on top of their more reformist, youth-friendly agenda.

“While joining forces to leverage on the machinery of more established parties might make sense, it could undermine their USP,” he said.

With the country’s historic constitutional amendment to allow 18-21 year-olds to vote, Muda may focus to sway millions of young voters who will be in the electoral roll by June 2021 after the completion of the automatic voter registration system.

But, that would only be the case if the snap election is called after the system is up and running.

Speculation is rife that the ruling PN coalition may call for snap polls anytime as soon as the Covid-19 situation is contained or under control.

Many analysts have predicted that the Undi 18 constitutional amendment could result in vastly different voting patterns in the GE15 with millions of first-time voters in the electoral roll.

According to the latest statistics Malay Mail obtained from the Department of Statistics Malaysia, there are currently 2.4 million youths between the ages of 18 and 21 living in the country.

The states with the highest number of youths are Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (512,200), Sabah (364,500), Johor (279,200) and Sarawak (216,400).

In an interview with Malay Mail last year, Election Commission deputy chairman Azmi Sharom noted that there are approximately four million potential voters above the age of 21 who are not registered to vote.

This group of voters will automatically be in the electrical roll after June this year.

In 2018, 14.9 million registered voters cast their ballots during GE14.

This article first appeared in the Malay Mail on 4 January 2021

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