Who is PAS trying to fool with ‘third force’ efforts, ask observers

Islamist party PAS’s plan to form a new “third force” opposition coalition has been met with scepticism, as analysts and observers say voting for all third parties has no bearing on the outcome of an election.

Under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, voters were likely to choose only between the top two candidates at the constituency level, said political analyst Dr Wong Chin Huat.

This is because voting for other candidates will not have any bearing on the outcome.

“Many voters care more about which parties can form the next government than which candidate to represent their constituencies. For these voters, voting for all third parties has no bearing on the outcome, too,” Wong told The Malaysian Insider.

He said it was rare for a FPTP electoral system to have more than two coalitions, unlike countries with proportional representation electoral systems, such as Germany, New Zealand and Ireland which have more than three major parties, and where party systems were diverse, competitive and stable.

Wong, who is a Penang Institute fellow, said it was doubtful whether PAS or its proposed new coalition could be a formidable third force in the next general election.

The only way was if it could find enough constituencies where PAS or its new coalition was one of the top two contestants.

In the last elections, PAS won 21 parliamentary constituencies and at least 40% of votes in 31 others, he said.

“Such impressive performance was, however, achieved as a component of Pakatan Rakyat. Out of these 52 constituencies, 16 then had at least 30% non-Malay voters.

“Clearly, PAS’s talk of forming another multi-ethnic coalition is driven by, among others, its desire to retain at least these 16 seats in three-cornered fights with Amanah.

“However, because of Hadi’s flip-flop leadership style, Umno-PAS courtship, and PAS’s conservative outlook on multiculturalism and gender issues, PAS is staunchly rejected by most non-Malays. And there is no credible non-Malay partner for PAS to court anyway,” he said referring to PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

Wong said with or without non-Muslim partners, PAS would engage in three-cornered fights with Amanah and DAP in other constituencies, too.

He said PAS might have the advantage in some of their traditional strongholds but in other seats, there was a question, even among Malay middle-ground voters, whether PAS could be taken seriously to lead Malaysia.

He also said the biggest problem for PAS was its “ambiguous” attitude towards Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whose tenure has been tainted by allegations of financial scandals.

“Hadi hugs him, Tuan Ibrahim slams him, Mahfuz wants to topple him. Why should anti-Najib voters vote PAS?”

PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan said on Thursday that PAS would form a second opposition coalition, working with a multiracial party and not with Umno.

Takiyuddin said PAS would sign a memorandum of understanding with the new multiracial party on March 16.

Split Malay votes

Associate professor Samsu Adabi Mamat said PAS’s move would diversify the opposition parties and split Malay votes.

He said it was experimental, using the Malay idiom “untung sabut timbul, untung batu tenggelam” (if lucky, you might succeed; if unlucky, you suffer losses) to explain.

“If untung sabut, PAS and its new pact will become an alternative to replace Umno as the main Malay party. If untung batu, they will just increase the number of Malay party groups,” he said.

Samsu Adabi said the emergence of the second coalition led by PAS would benefit Barisan Nasional a little, as it would split the opposition.

“BN would be seen as a more stable coalition. Even though it has huge problems now, there is unity in the coalition among its component members.

“So this situation will lead to three-cornered fights and the splitting of votes. In seats where you have 50% Malay voters, it would be tougher to see which party will win.”

He said PAS could still dominate many seats in the east coast states, such as Kelantan and Terengganu, and Kedah while many seats in the more developed states would be controlled by the other opposition pact Pakatan Harapan.

“Voters there, namely the Chinese, will give their votes to DAP and PKR,” he said.

Suspicious timing

Former PAS leader Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (pic) was also sceptical of this “third force” and wondered which multiracial party would team up with the Islamist party.

“Most of the multiracial parties are already with Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. All three in Pakatan are multiracial parties with their own credentials.

“Which are they talking about? Parti Cinta Malaysia? Parti Sosialis Malaysia?”

The Parti Amanah Negara vice-president also questioned the timing of the plan to set up a second opposition bloc, which comes on the heels of the Citizens’ Declaration initiated by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to oust Najib.

The declaration has now morphed into the Save Malaysia Movement, which has seen political enemies from Umno, PKR, DAP, Amanah and civil group leaders unite to work towards the common goals of replacing Najib and implementing institutional reforms.

“Why now? The Save Malaysia Movement has just started out as a platform to change the country. It seems an anti-climax to have a party that flip-flops coming out with another opposition coalition.

“PAS was invited to join the Pakatan Harapan coalition last year by PKR, which it is still on friendly terms with, but declined.”

After a fall out between DAP and PAS over the hudud issue last year, a group of PAS progressive leaders, including Mujahid, left the Islamist party to form Amanah.

The new party then joined DAP and PKR to form the new coalition Pakatan Harapan to replace the defunct Pakatan Rakyat. PAS chose to stay out of the pact because of its animosity towards DAP and Amanah, which it called traitors.

Mujahid said the timing of the announcement created doubt and suspicion about PAS’s motive.

“Are they only out to spoil votes? To counter the movement, since its leadership has announced that it is not part of it?

“Are they just out to disrupt the effort to change the government? That would only strengthen BN.”

Penang Presiden Persatuan Ummah Sejahtera Malaysia (PasMa) chief Zolkifly Md Lazim described the third force plan as “illogical”.

“I don’t think this second opposition pact will have much impact on the betterment of our political landscape, when it looks like it will benefit BN.

“There are reports that PAS is doing this to go after Pakatan Harapan. So they are just going to make things easier for BN. It is for BN’s survival... this third force is not going to take us to a more democratised nation.

“If there is a third force, it should be by non-governmental organisations, or civil society.” – March 12, 2016.