THE curtain is coming down on 2015 — a year of countless political upheavals and misfortunes that will likely see some vote swing in the next general election.
The year indeed has not been kind to some political parties.
Malaysian politics are now in unchartered waters — the ruling Barisan Nasional and Opposition parties are experiencing unprecedented turmoil and even chaos, resulting in discontent in their folds.
It was a roller coaster ride for several parties — infighting and power struggles had left many of their leaders and members in a daze and confused, figuring out what to do to remain relevant and become a popular party among the electorate once again.
And because of rising political discontent over a number of economic and social issues, Malaysians, who have grown more invested and interested in politics than ever before since the 2008 political tsunami, are bracing for a hotter political climate next year.
Rumbles of dissatisfaction have grown loud while talk of political change in the country has become more intense this year.
The impending Sarawak state elections, which should be held by August 2016, are set to become a very closely watched event, merely because the polls will have a bearing on the 14th General Election that has to be called by 2018.
But Barisan Nasional (BN) will remain in power in the Borneo state yet again. No doubt about that.
It is whether the Opposition parties — DAP, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), with 15 seats collectively in their hands — will make further inroads is the reason why the elections in the state have become significant and are being closely watched.
It is an undisputed theory that it was the 2006 Sarawak elections, despite BN being returned to power in Sarawak, that spearheaded the 2008 political tsunami, where the ruling BN was removed from power as the government in five states and lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority during the 13th General Election (GE13) in 2013.
Then, the DAP made history, winning six seats from the one seat it held before.The 2011 Sarawak elections saw then Pakatan Rakyat winning 15 state seats — DAP 12 and PKR three, an achievement the Pakatan leaders boasted as being responsible for the ruling BN losing even more seats and collecting only 48% of the electoral support in GE13.
Observers are also keen to see if PAS, whose presence is hardly significant in Sarawak, will be able to steal a seat.
There is also PAS’ splinter, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), which is eyeing some seats in the fast approaching state polls.
Looking back, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s popularity has hit an all-time low although he still commands control of Umno’s Supreme Council and the party’s 191 divisions.
This is despite a crisis that resulted mostly from the controversial RM2.6 billion political donation allegedly deposited in his bank account as well as 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) RM42 billion in debts, the implementation of the unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) and rising cost of living.
Electoral reforms, corruption and good governance are issues raised by the rakyat throughout the year.
While the Umno ground is restless over an uprising within the party over the 1MDB issue, among others, the recently-concluded Umno General Assembly saw Najib firmly taking a stand and magnanimously inviting his opponents in the party to return to the fold.
Besides calls for him to step down as Prime Minister by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir & Co, Najib caused uneasiness in the Umno rank and file when he removed his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, as Deputy Prime Minister and another Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal from his Cabinet for questioning the controversial political donation and 1MDB matters.
Najib has vigorously denied wrongdoing in regards to the political donation and 1MDB, including ever having used public money for personal gain.
As for the rising cost of living, the government, through various ministries, has taken measures to help cushion the impact of GST on the people.
The Umno-led BN government will continue to face an uphill task in handling the 1MDB issue next year and possibly until the next general election.
While trying to strengthen Umno, Najib, as BN and also Umno leader, also has to look into the troubles in key BN coalition members, especially the MIC, which has been deeply fragmentalised due to a leadership tussle that is still being sorted out.
The MCA is also in inertia, unable to offer much to convince the community and regain lost Chinese support until now.
Across the divide, the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat began losing its popularity after two of its iconic leaders were no longer around to help patch things up in the fragile set-up.
In February, it lost Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was sent to jail for sodomy and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who passed away, leaving a vacuum.
From then on, things began turning from bad to worst, making the Pakatan Rakyat alliance untenable.
PAS is now moving solo while DAP and PKR decided to embrace Amanah to form a new Opposition pact — Pakatan Harapan.
it is still too early to gauge the public’s acceptance to this new pact although Amanah’s leaders are former PAS leaders who mostly won seats contesting on the PAS ticket in the 2013 General Election.
Still in its infancy, Amanah has gained little traction among Malays although the non-Malays, who are supporting DAP, appear to have given it the thumbs up.
Its failure to mobilise Malays for the Bersih 4.0 rally despite its leaders being key movers in previous Bersih rallies, was a clear indication that the party had yet to appeal to Malays.
Currently run by the clerics group, PAS has yet to convince those who had supported it in the spirit of the then Pakatan Rakyat are still with the party.
A lot of work is in store for PAS next year, especially if the party fails yet again to win even a single seat in the upcoming Sarawak elections.
Delegates rejected candidates labelled as progressives or professionals in the PAS elections in June.
Even the popular Mohamad Sabu lost his deputy president post when delegates replaced him with Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who is an ulama.
The ouster of the progressives, who included popular elected representatives, was what prompted the “rejects” to set up Amanah, with big brother DAP’s support behind the scenes.
With Anwar in prison, PKR is still struggling to find a coherent organising principle to remain relevant.
Past missteps, including the controversial “Kajang” move (a failed bid to topple the 14th Menteri Besar of Selangor, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, and install Anwar), and the eventual ousting of Khalid and subsequent installation of party deputy president Azmin Ali as the new Menteri Besar, somewhat acknowledged the much talked-about tiff between Azmin and Anwar’s wife, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Months have passed since Pakatan Rakyat was disbanded but PKR is still undecided on the question of which party it should forge a strategic alliance with in Selangor, where PAS is still part of the state government.
DAP is clear in wanting PAS out of the scene altogether, but Azmin prefers to retain the status quo, creating uneasiness among Pakatan Harapan supporters.
Many of them had voted for PAS candidates in the last general election merely because the Islamist party was part of then Pakatan Rakyat.
Even PAS leaders had acknowledged that the party could not have won most of the seats in Selangor on its own strength as many are racially-mixed constituencies.
Chinese support for DAP is said to be increasing by the day. The party has also taken measures over the year to woo the Malay ground and is aggressively registering new voters, who are generally Opposition-friendly.
Except for several complaints over policies introduced by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, people there generally seem to have little dissatisfaction living under DAP rule since 2008.
DAP’s focus now is on the Sarawak elections, which its leaders believe will see the party making some gains.Against this backdrop of political imbroglio, Malaysians may well witness unexpected events unfolding next year.