Will Umno give up seats to Bersatu?

THIS year or 2021, snap elections before the current mandate ends in July 2023 appear inevitable.

Barisan Nasional, the coalition within Perikatan Nasional with the largest number of MPs (42), is in favour of it and by themselves can trigger the 15th general election by just withdrawing from the government.

Recent comments by Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan and senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob about the instability of the PN government add to the inevitability of fresh elections.

What’s left then is seat negotiations in PN, which currently consists of Bersatu (32), BN (42), PAS (18), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (18) and four Borneo independents.

Although the government is led by Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, seven out of its 32 federal seats were won as part of Pakatan Harapan in 2018.

The other 25 seats comprise of defectors from Umno (15) and the PKR faction (10) led by sacked deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali.

To understand the difficulties of seat negotiation in PN, The Malaysian Insight offers a breakdown of the Bersatu seats.

Seats won on BN ticket

Following BN’s defeat in 2018, Bagan Serai MP and now deputy health minister Noor Azmi Ghazali was the first Umno lawmaker to join Bersatu in June 2018.

Jeli MP Mustapa Mohamed and Masjid Tanah’s Mas Ermieyati Samsudin followed in October and December 2018.

Another 12 followed suit in 2019, giving Bersatu 15 from Umno with seven from the peninsula and five from Sabah.

Perak has three – Larut, Bagan Serai and Bukit Gantang – while two are from Kelantan (Tanah Merah and Jeli).

Terengganu, Penang, Selangor, Malacca and Johor have one each.

The remaining five are from Sabah – Kudat, Beaufort, Sipitang, Beluran and Libaran.

From a margin perspective, seven of the seats – Hulu Terengganu, Tasek Gelugor, Bagan Serai, Sabak Bernam, Kudat, Sipitang and Libaran – all had a winning margin of less than 5%.

The lowest winning margin is in Tasek Gelugor (0.35%) and Bagan Serai won by 81 and 172 votes respectively.

On the winning end, the largest margins were enjoyed by five-term MP Ronald Kiandee in Beluran (24.9%), five-term MP Abdul Latiff Ahmad in Mersing (22.63%) and Mas Ermieyati (19.28%).

With the exception of Bagan Serai and Bukit Gantang, all the rest were seats traditionally held by Umno with some going back to 1963, such as Tanah Merah and Sabak Bernam.
Umno held Bagan Serai from 1974-2008 before losing it to PKR and wresting it back in 2013 and 2018. Bukit Gantang, on the hand, was also Umno’s until 2008, before reclaiming it in GE14.

Bagan Serai and Bukit Gantang also have the lowest concentration of Malay voters at 78% and 73% respectively. Other seats, such as Tanah Merah, Jeli and Hulu Terengganu have between 95%-99% Malay voters.
Apart from these two seats, the question is whether Umno will give up eight of these seats to Bersatu, which was only formed in 2016.

On its own, Bersatu cannot win these seats without the agreement of Umno and PAS. But based on the Umno-PAS muafakat nasional in 2019, either of the parties can win this seat without Bersatu.

Although the current MPs for Tanah Merah, Jeli, Hulu Terengganu, Tasek Gelugor, Larut, Sabak Bernam, Masjid Tanah and Mersing have joined Bersatu, it’s unknown if they can defend these seats without Umno.

Umno will be keen to retain these seats to solidify its claim to be the main Malay-Islam party in the country.

Party or candidate?

On the Sabah side, politics continue to be unpredictable after five Umno MPs and several assemblymen and senators joined Bersatu last year.

Although their defections triggered the collapse of several Umno divisions, Umno showed that it’s still a potent force in the state by winning the Kimanis by-election early this year.

Despite being a new candidate, Mohamad Alamin managed to win Kimanis in January with an even bigger margin than his predecessor Anifah Aman in 2018.

Anifah resigned from Umno in 2018 to be an independent MP and decided not to re-contest the seat in the by-election after his 2018 victory was nullified.

This is a crucial point as it shows the degree of loyalty BN enjoys in Sabah despite the exodus of MPs to Bersatu.

If GE15 is held this year, will Bersatu’s Sabah MPs contest as Bersatu or BN candidates?

Malaysian voters traditionally vote along party lines and not candidate. With the exception of candidates, such as Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Shahrir Samad and Muhyiddin Yassin, few have been able to stand without their parties.

Can PKR defectors win under PN?

With 11 MPs, Azmin’s group was sufficient to bring down PH in February. Selangau BM Baru Bian, however, left Azmin’s bloc and joined Parti Sarawak Bersatu instead.

The 10 former PKR leaders, who joined Bersatu in February, comprise seven from the peninsula, Sarawak (2) and Sabah (1).

This excludes Jugah Muyang (Lubuk Antu), who quit PKR last month but has not joined Bersatu.

Of the seven in the peninsula, two are from Selangor (Gombak and Ampang) and another two from Johor (Segamat and Batu Pahat). The other three are one each from Penang, Pahang and Federal Territory (Kuala Lumpur).

All the peninsular seats had comfortable winning margins in 2018 ranging between 11.6% (Segamat) and 54.8% (Gombak). The lowest wining margins are Ranau (2.4%) and Saratok (4.3%).

While eight out of the 10 wins were comfortable, seven seats were won under PKR or PH.

Seats such as Gombak, Ampang, Bandar Tun Razak, Indera Mahkota and Nibong Tebal, which were previously under Umno or MCA, fell to PKR in 2008 during the first election tsunami and have been under it ever since.
Of the remaining two seats, Segamat was held by MIC for 36 years (1982-2018) and before that by MCA from 1974 to 1982. It only fell during the anti-BN wave in 2018.

Batu Pahat, on the other hand, was a BN seat from 1959 (Alliance-MCA) until 2013. Out of that, Umno held it for nine terms from 1974 till 2013, a total of 39 years.

From the seven, five are former PKR seats while two were BN strongholds.

While BN and PAS are likely to lend their support to Bersatu to defend the former PKR seats, it will be interesting to see if it will give up its strongholds in Segamat and Batu Pahat.

As it stands, MIC only has Tapah left in Parliament.

Where will MIC president S. Vigneswaran contest after stepping down as Dewan Negara speaker last month?

Non-Malay factor

Apart from the history, these seats also have the highest concentration of non-Malay voters among the Bersatu seats, ranging from the highest in Segamat (53%) to Gombak (22%).

If the 2018 voting trend continues in GE15, where 95% of Chinese and 89% of Indians voted for PH, can Bersatu still hold on to Segamat, Nibong Tebal (each 52% non-Malays), Batu Pahat (45%) and Ampang (44%)?

In Segamat, Edmund Santhara Kumar was only able to pip former MIC president Dr S. Subramaniam by 5,476 votes (11.86%) with the full backing of non-Malay voters.

He was also aided by the Umno-PAS three-cornered fight strategy that broke up the Malay votes as the PAS candidate Khairul Faizi Ahmad Kamil took 2,676 votes.

In Nibong Tebal, two-term MP Mansor Othman will also have to face 52% non-Malay voters after turning his back on their mandate.

But as MIC only has Tapah now, after giving Cameron Highlands to Umno in the 2019 by-election, it will again be a test for the ethnic Indian party to give up Segamat as well.

Minus the non-Malay support, Santhara and Mansor will require the full backing of Umno and PAS voters in their seats.

Indera Mahkota’s Saifuddin Abdullah faces a similar situation as he only obtained 44.85% of the total votes cast in 2018. The rest went to Umno’s Johari Mat Sah (27.66%) and PAS’ Nasrudin Hasan (27.49%), whose combined total is higher than the information minister.

Both BN and PAS will have strong claims for Segamat, Batu Pahat and Indera Mahkota, as both parties can win them back based on Malay support alone.

In summary, BN held 15 out of the 25 seats for most of the elections until 2018. Only seven of the 25 can be said to be PH seats (five from Azmin’s faction and two swing seats – Bagan Serai and Bkt Gantang). The remaining three in Sabah and Sarawak only fell for the first time in 2018 and as such are hard to predict due to Borneo sentiments.

BN will have to resign to the possibility of taking back the prime minister’s chair in GE15 if it gives up these seats to Bersatu.

In the next article, The Malaysian Insight looks at Bersatu’s chances in the seats won by its party members won.
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