Swift rebuke hints at ‘Taylor’-made rift in Bersatu’s concert debacle

As far as ‘bola tanggung’ (a misstep that an opponent can capitalise on) goes, this was a classic shot in the foot.

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) is already facing a tough time establishing itself as a strong and credible opposition party. But no one could have foreseen that American megastar Taylor Swift would be the one to ‘reveal’ fissures within the party, which is part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

The award-winning star’s concert in Singapore on March 2 has been a talking point among many. It also revealed how certain members within Bersatu don’t see things eye to eye, and have no issues going public with their differences.

Singapore has been applauded by many for capitalising on the economic spillover effects of the concerts – dubbed Swiftonomics.

However, some leaders in Southeast Asia have taken issue with the ‘Gorgeous’ singer’s performances in the republic – her only stop in the region. This matter was even raised during a joint press conference between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong and his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, at the 9th Singapore-Australia Annual Leaders’ Meeting in Melbourne on March 5.

Back home, WhatsApp messages and postings online were centred on how Malaysia had lost out on the economic windfall from Swift’s concerts. The country is trying to stimulate local spending and tourism, post-Covid-19.

As far as most Malaysians are concerned, concerts are not something Perikatan Nasional leaders are particularly fond of, often foregoing the economic spillover effects in the interest of ‘protecting local cultural and religious sensitivities’.

As such, eyebrows were certainly raised when Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu said that Malaysia stood to lose out if it failed to leverage on opportunities that came along with allowing international artists to perform in the country. But he understood what those opportunities meant, based on his experience as the former youth and sports minister.

Bersatu’s legal and constitution bureau deputy chairman, Sasha Lyna Abdul Latiff, echoed Ahmad Faizal’s sentiments, adding that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh must explain the missed opportunity.

The first sign that all was not well in the Bersatu household was when the party’s Youth chief, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal, went on public domain to slam Sasha, saying, “Her view is her own, and doesn’t represent Bersatu’s. None of our Bersatu MPs ever raised this matter”.

Effectively, Wan Ahmad Fayshal had taken a pot-shot at his deputy president, albeit indirectly. This faux pas was enough for those within the government, especially several DAP leaders, to have a field day, mocking their opponents.

DAP’s Syahredzan Johan, who is Bangi MP, posted screen shots of Ahmad Faizal and Wan Ahmad Fayshal’s postings on X.

But was Wan Ahmad Fayshal’s apparent gaffe truly a faux pas, or did he lift a play from the DAP playbook – by playing devil’s advocate to pacify Bersatu’s more traditional, more conservative supporters?

It’s similar to when DAP leaders raised the need for local government elections, or when it suggested that non-Muslims be included in committees associated with Islamic affairs, only to receive flak from the other Pakatan Harapan coalition members.

In addition to Bersatu, PN also has Pas – an Islamic political party that has been consistent in its opposition to the country hosting concerts. However, last month, Pas vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar ‘clarified’ that the party was not against concerts, but rather, against the performers’ conduct and social stance.

He conceded that concerts provided economic benefits, but if the performers promoted alternative lifestyles, like LGBTQ+, or were pro-Israel or pro-Zionist, it would contradict the party’s stance.

Bersatu leaders will now, no doubt, steer clear of this storm in a teacup, and move on to other things. This will not hide the fact that the rift in the party is becoming obvious. And that certain quarters are trying hard to demonise Ahmad Faizal and his supporters. This is apparent as several Bersatu members, clearly supporters of “the other camp”, had also condemned Ahmad Faizal for his stand. Some also came to his defense.

Bersatu needs to get its act together if it wants to be taken seriously. Its leaders should start by sharing insights and views within, before going public. After all, that’s what WhatsApp groups are for.

So, will disciplinary action be taken against Ahmad Faizal and Sasha for voicing their views, or against Wan Ahmad Fayshal for publically humiliating his party colleagues?

Justice, as we know it, could be Swift.

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