A realistic benchmark for Pakatan Harapan in the next general election would be to win about 80 parliamentary seats, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli said.
Rafizi, 44 – who is making a return to active politics – said Harapan needs to start doubling down on appealing to voters immediately in order to avoid massive casualties in the 15th general election (GE15).
He pointed to Harapan’s bad performance in the Johor snap polls and warned that the opposition coalition is in trouble as Johor is a “microcosm of Malaysia as a whole”.
“The best I hope for realistically now is to make sure Harapan stays intact as the largest opposition bloc in Parliament after the next general election.
“What we don’t want is that not only did we lose, but we are the third or fourth bloc in Parliament because that means Harapan is losing relevance and that is dangerous.
“So, realistically speaking, let’s try to win about 80 seats in the next general election because I think 80 seats is the kind of benchmark we need to aim for to remain as the largest or second-largest bloc in Parliament,” Rafizi told Malaysiakini in an interview at his office in Sungai Besi recently.
In the 2018 general election, Harapan plus Warisan won 121 seats, while the coalition’s three key core parties, PKR (47), DAP (42) and Amanah (11), bagged 100 seats.
One issue Harapan faces is the debate over whether PKR president Anwar Ibrahim is still the right prime minister candidate for the opposition coalition.
After Harapan’s poor showing in the Malacca, Sarawak and Johor state elections, there have been growing criticisms about Anwar’s relevance as well as calls for him to step down as opposition leader.
Rafizi believes Anwar is still the best prime minister candidate for Harapan at this time, but more importantly, Harapan needs to stay focused and united at this point in time, instead of arguing over prime minister candidates.
“If Anwar steps down now – and going into the next general election – Pandora’s box will open on who is the best prime minister candidate.
“Most probably, there will be no end to the bickering. Everyone has their own opinion and not a single person will be able to command the respect of the three parties.
“Irrespective of what people say about Anwar, especially what has happened in the past two to three years, the fact remains that he is still the best prime minister candidate going into the next general election for Harapan,” Rafizi said.
He later added that Harapan should not be talking about prime minister candidates at all, as it is not what the majority of voters are most concerned about.
While he acknowledged that urban voters tend to care about prime minister candidates, Rafizi said young voters, first-time voters and economic voters do not actually pay much attention to such things.
“To them, they’re all the same. We have changed three prime ministers, they still can’t sort out our problems.
“So, they vote by sheer excitement that there can be something worthwhile that may come out of these people, they vote out of a belief that these people are sincere about what they want to do, they vote out of excitement that these people are competent and they teach me something (about going) beyond rhetoric,” he said.
Also, contrary to what most Harapan leaders have espoused, Rafizi does not believe that the “big tent” approach would bring many benefits to Harapan right now.
Instead of seeking new partners who are probably unable to bring new voters to Harapan, he said the coalition should focus inwards and improve themselves as a product to the voters first.
“By now, you know I am totally against this so-called concept of ‘big tent’. Not because of anything, it is just that the data suggests otherwise.
“The approach for a big tent is taking a simplistic view about voters’ tendencies,” he said.
“Those in favour of the big tent approach think that combining the vote shares of certain parties will lead to victory for Harapan, but this does not take into account the concept of vote transferability.
“The big-tent approach assumes that this thing doesn’t exist. It assumes that if you eliminate the number of parties contesting, the votes will automatically go to you. It doesn’t work like that. Most probably, you may suppress your own core votes,” he said.
There is also the question of whether the new parties they seek to work with can bring any added value to the Harapan coalition.
Fellow opposition parties such as Muda, Pejuang and Warisan are currently independent of the Harapan coalition, which is the largest opposition bloc in Parliament right now.
Muda had struck an electoral pact with Harapan in the Johor snap polls, where the youth party made its electoral debut and managed to win one seat – Puteri Wangsa.
Pejuang and Warisan had lost badly in the Johor polls, with all their candidates losing the deposits in the seats they contested.
With Muda, Rafizi said based on their performance in the Johor elections, there is no evidence that they brought in new votes to Harapan as both appear to be talking to the same crowd of voters.
Meanwhile, working with Pejuang may bring more trouble than benefits as the “bitterness and sting” from former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s role in the fall of Harapan’s government may push away Harapan’s core supporters, he said.
“We should look into ourselves and see how we can do better to appeal more rather than stonewalling and feel that whatever we have now is already good and let’s try to get other people.
“Because when you bring other people in Harapan, without really making sure they can bring extra votes, then it will create dissension in the coalition,” Rafizi said. – Malaysiakini