Is the divorce between Pakatan and PAS for real?: The Star columnist

PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli was not supposed to be at the Monday night meeting but everyone was too polite to tell him to leave.
PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli was not supposed to be at the Monday night meeting but everyone was too polite to tell him to leave. PHOTO: BERNAMA

Joceline Tan

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There were a few raised eyebrows when the man at the centre of the storm in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) walked in and took a seat at the Pakatan Harapan* presidential council meeting.

PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli was not supposed to be at the Monday night meeting but everyone was too polite to tell him to leave.

There was a lot at stake for Rafizi who is running a campaign to oppose any sort of cooperation between PKR and Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS) in the general election and he was there with a purpose.

Ironically, PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, the man Rafizi is fighting, was a no-show at the meeting even though he is the Pakatan vice-president and election director.

PKR's continued push to cooperate with PAS dominated the discussion although the meeting was meant to discuss election issues.

The group that was opposed to PAS outnumbered those open to engaging PAS and a terse and brief statement was issued in the early hours of Tuesday morning to say that Pakatan would not be working with PAS in the general election, and that it was prepared for three-cornered fights.

"There were lots of opinions, Mahathir wanted to hear how we felt and we put across our stand. Surveys and studies have concluded that it (engaging PAS) would not impact the Chinese vote but the view of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) is that it will affect their Chinese support," said PKR vice-president Tian Chua.

There were also mixed feelings about whether Pakatan should issue a statement on the matter.

Pakatan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it was better to take an open stand and see what happens rather than keep silent and give PAS the opportunity to do as it likes.

"After so much dilly-dallying, the Pakatan leadership has finally bitten the bullet to take a position on PAS. Mahathir understands the game, it was the desired outcome," said a DAP MP.

It was a victory for DAP and also for Rafizi who has been pushing for a special PKR congress to decide on whether the party should work with or reject PAS.

But it came at some cost because even as the meeting was going on, his adversary and supreme council member Latheefa Koya was bashing him on Facebook, accusing him of splitting the party.

She even claimed that he is an operative of "geng Ponorogo", a reference to the Javanese origins of Umno leader Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, which Rafizi has since denied.

There has not been a dull day in Pakatan the last couple of years. There are so many internal fights and rifts happening between and within the coalition partners, yet they keep coming up with stories that they can capture Putrajaya.

Is this the "talak tiga" or final divorce from PAS?

Not many people will take it seriously as long as PAS remains a part of the Selangor­government. Or as Tian Chua put it: "What is there to stop our party from talking (with PAS)? We do not need to do it openly."

Some claimed Azmin had chickened out of the Pakatan meeting but others said it was deliberate because he did not wish to be party to the decision against PAS.

Azmin was also absent from PKR's political bureau meeting the next day. A party official told the press corps that there would not be a press conference while rumours swirled of a "letter from Sungai Buloh" on the matter.

At about 5pm, a one-paragraph statement - yes, one paragraph - came from Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail stating that PKR is committed to efforts to strengthen Pakatan and come up with strategies to defeat Umno and Barisan Nasional.

But silence speaks louder than words and the omission of any mention of Pakatan's decision against PAS the night before was too glaring to ignore. It was as good as saying that the Pakatan presidential council can say what it wants but the party is keeping its options open about PAS, especially in Selangor.

"Based on the survey findings, the president feels that our chances are better if there are one-to-one contests with BN. She is looking at the bigger picture, she wants to protect our party's interest," said deputy Youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin, who had earlier slammed Rafizi's call for a special congress as the "height of absurdity".

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has also given his blessings to cooperation with PAS. Party insiders said the last time Anwar and Dr Mahathir met on the sidelines of a court hearing, Anwar asked the older man to support PKR's intention to work with PAS.

The dilemma over PAS has deepened the rift within PKR. PKR's Selayang MP William Leong resigned from the political bureau in protest last week.

If not properly handled, it may also cause distrust and tensions between the Pakatan partners.

Will Pakatan pretend not to know and keep an eye closed to PKR's continued courtship of PAS?

It is understood that there are individuals in DAP who are vehemently opposed to PAS and who do not rule out action against PKR even if it means reducing the membership of Pakatan to three parties.

*(The Pakatan Harapan pact is made up of four parties - Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara. PAS had teamed up with Keadilan and DAP as Pakatan Rakyat in the last two general elections in 2008 and 2013, but the successful alliance broke up in 2015 largely due to policy disputes surrounding PAS' Islamic agenda.)