Malaysia Chronicle

From left, Minister of Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Rural and Reigional Development Datuk Seri Rina Harun, Minister of Defence Mohamad Sabu ,Minister of Home Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the 1st annivesary Pakatan Harapan Government at Putrajaya International ConventionCentre.

Big stakes in the ‘Big Tent’

THE buzzword among political forces that want to oppose Umno in the 15th General Election (GE15) is “Big Tent”.

The Big Tent is ABU (Anything But Umno). To be exact, it is ABB (Anything But Barisan Nasional) as Umno is leading the coalition, which also comprises MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah.

In the Melaka and Johor polls, Barisan convincingly defeated its main rivals – Pakatan Harapan (PKR, DAP, Amanah and Upko) and Perikatan Nasional (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PAS, Gerakan, Sabah Star and Sabah Progressive Party).

Proponents of the Big Tent approach believe the results would have been different if there had not been a three-way fight, ie, Barisan vs Pakatan vs Perikatan. They think if it was Barisan versus Pakatan + Perikatan, Big Tent would have won the two polls.

They have the same argument for GE15.

Arguably, the proponent of the Big Tent approach is Team Anwar of PKR. However, Opposition leader and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has dismissed suggestions that he is the architect of the strategy.

In typical Anwarspeak, the Port Dickson MP said his party does not promote the idea, but Pakatan would not close its door if there were parties that wanted to talk (about forming a Big Tent).

The other proponent is Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has declared that his party is prepared to work with any political party to ensure straight fights against Barisan in GE15. Muhyiddin said Bersatu is in the initial stage of discussions to offer a “win-win” formula to achieve the objective.

Let’s go through the list of major non-Barisan parties and their stand on a Big Tent.


Team Anwar (which includes Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution, who is in an “ideological” fight with Rafizi Ramli for the PKR deputy president post) is – to use Anwarspeak – not closing the door to other parties to form Big Tent. In contrast, Team Rafizi (which includes Nurul Izzah Anwar) is not in favour of doing political deals to get back in power.


Party leaders such as DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng have stated the party won’t meet Muhyiddin for any form of cooperation. The former prime minister was one of the masterminds behind the Sheraton Move*. Lim also said DAP would not work with PAS, as leader Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang did not keep his word.

(*In February 2020, the Muhyiddin faction of Bersatu and the Datuk Azmin Ali faction in PKR brought down the 22-month-old Pakatan government when they combined with Barisan, PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak, smaller parties and independent MPs to form the Perikatan Nasional government.)


Its president Mohamad Sabu said Pakatan cannot work with Bersatu, PAS or even Umno. How-ever, Amanah deputy president Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub urged Pakatan leadership to invite Bersatu and PAS to discuss the Big Tent.


Its president is a fan of the Big Tent approach. Muhyiddin believes that to go against Barisan, political parties should have an understanding to avoid split votes, which happened in the Melaka and Johor polls.


It has rejected the Big Tent approach even though Perikatan is still discussing the matter.

Parti Pejuang

The party is keeping an open mind on the Big Tent concept.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)

The coalition – which consists of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) – is so strong in Sarawak that it doesn’t need to be in a Big Tent. GPS, formerly Sarawak Barisan, doesn’t need to be ABB as there is no Barisan in the state.

Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS)

GRS – which comprises Bersatu, Parti Bersatu Sabah, Sabah Star and SAPP – wants to be the Big Tent of government parties in Sabah.

It is trying to work a deal with Barisan so that GRS will not have to clash with it in GE15. The political situation in Sabah is still fluid, but it is clear that Perikatan will not be contesting in the state in GE15. GRS has replaced Perikatan and also Bersatu might just die a natural death in Sabah.

The big problem with the Big Tent is who will be prime minister. For example, PKR’s Anwar still dreams of becoming PM, while Bersatu’s Muhyiddin wants the post again. Can Anwar and Muhyiddin settle this issue as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar did before GE14 in 2018?

As we know, the Mahathir/Anwar deal of Anwar becoming PM after two years of Dr Mahathir’s rule did not happen as both sides played each other out.

Whether the Big Tent happens is still a big question. But what is likely post-GE15 is that parties will scramble to get into the winners’ tent. It is a coalition that will form the next government.

If an existing coalition can’t win GE15 outright, sworn political enemies will forgo enmity and duck into the winners’ tent – supposedly demi rakyat (for the sake of the people).

After all, most politicians are in politics for power.



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