What options do Anwar have to halt the PN juggernaut?

WHAT can Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim do to control and manage the political damage inflicted by Perikatan Nasional (PN) on the unity government?

As predicted, PN emerged the winner in the elections race. PH-BN might have retained control of the three states but the inroads made by PN was conspicuous.

UMNO was wiped out in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. Apart from Negri Sembilan, UMNO’s performance was unimpressive in Penang and Selangor.

The question foremost in the minds of many in the country is whether Anwar can control the damage inflicted by PN. More ominous is the fact that come the 16th General Election (GE16) in 2027 PN might be serious contender for power in Putrajaya.

The state elections were indeed a litmus test for PH-BN. There is no end of suggestions to Anwar that he must turn things around before it is too late.

But the million-dollar question is what is Anwar going to do to halt the PN juggernaut? Unfortunately, many analysts rather than focusing on the cultural realm to contain the PN, have sought to suggest economic changes to assist the poor and the needy.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (centre) during the run-up to the Aug 12 state polls

Economic changes are important not only to revive the sluggish financial system but to improve benefits to the ordinary people.

The underlying principle is that ordinary people might not be ideologically pre-disposed but will support the government in power if their lives improve in terms getting better income and the provision of educational opportunities for their children.

Think outside the box

Such a perspective might be true in some situations but not in all. In country like Malaysia, the polarised ethnic and religious situation might override concerns of material existence.

Kelantan is considered one of the poorest states in the country on material grounds yet there is not let up on the support for PAS. Similar situation also arises in Kedah and Terengganu.

It is not that Anwar should let down his economic guard to migrate to the cultural and the ideological realms. The battle cry now is for the hearts and minds of the Malays.

I don’t think food on the table and money in their pockets would influence them to gravitate towards the unity government. Malay support for the PN and non-support for the PH-BN is complex and nuanced.

In the wide ensemble of factors of economic, financial, cultural and ideological, the support for PN seems to be over-determined by the ideological realm. Here I am making reference to chiefly ethnicity and religion factors.

The question is how Anwar is going to wean away Malay support from PN by reliance on the material realm. It might have some effect but not total or all encompassing.

Anwar caught between the devil and deep blue sea

How come despite the numerous suggestions to Anwar, there are hardly any suggestions for Anwar to re-examine the cultural or ideological strategy to thwart the ethnic and religious narrative of PN?

Anwar knows the power of the ethnic and religious narrative of PN. But he is helpless in doing the right thing because UMNO is the main target of the attack mounted by PN. The bulk of the ethnic and religious attack is directed towards UMNO and DAP.

In this way, Anwar is not in a position to come out with an alternative cultural or ideological strategy to undermine the narrative of PN.

If Anwar moves in the direction of appeasing the conservatives, then his relationship with UMNO and DAP might pose a problem.

It must be admitted that without UMNO and DAP, he might not be in the office. In other words, Anwar is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. This is where imaginative politics have to come in.

If Anwar cannot re-invent an ideological strategy to counter the conservative ethnic and religious forces, then he must engage in thinking out of the box that might be extremely precarious. – Aug 16, 2023



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