Malaysia's opposition forms Pakatan Harapan alliance

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at a roundtable meeting on the formation of Pakatan Harapan - or Coalition of Hope - yesterday in Subang Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur. The new alliance comprises PKR, the Democratic Action Party a
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at a roundtable meeting on the formation of Pakatan Harapan - or Coalition of Hope - yesterday in Subang Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur. The new alliance comprises PKR, the Democratic Action Party and the newly formed Parti Amanah Negara, a breakaway group of moderates from Parti Islam SeMalaysia.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

There is a "new" opposition alliance in Malaysian politics.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) - or Coalition of Hope - was formed yesterday by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) together with a breakaway group from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as a new iteration of the defunct Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

But without PAS, which insists it will not work with "traitors", Malaysia's opposition lacks a cohesive and united front that previously pushed the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) to the brink of defeat.

Opposition leader and PKR chief Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced the new alliance yesterday following more than three hours of "roundtable" deliberations that included several civil society groups.

The third member of PH is the newly formed Parti Amanah Negara, comprising former PAS moderates who left the party after they were whitewashed by the conservatives in party polls in June.

Datuk Seri Wan Azizah said the current leadership crisis and financial turmoil in Malaysia required an immediate resolution.

"The public's hopes are mounting for a united and strong opposition pact that can play its role in stemming the poor governance and irregularities in Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration," she said.

The Straits Times understands that at yesterday's meeting, the DAP and Amanah argued for a concrete announcement of the new pact, despite concerns that it could further alienate PAS. The Islamic party is the largest opposition party by membership and is also widely acknowledged as having the most effective party machinery.

Sources also said Dr Wan Azizah's announcement that her jailed husband Anwar Ibrahim was PH's prime ministerial candidate did not sit well with those who felt it would be a further slap in the face of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. He had refused to endorse Anwar before the 2013 General Election.

So Dr Wan Azizah's announcement clearly put some daylight between PH and PR, especially with the hudud (Islamic criminal law) issue pushed by PAS now off the table.

The new alliance would not face the same bickering that tore PR apart as "the personalities here today are the ones that made PR work in the first place", Dr Wan Azizah said, referring to the presence of Amanah leaders who had been more supportive of coalition-building when they were still in PAS.

But she stressed that PH welcomed other parties, including PAS and even BN parties, so long as they were "on the same page".

According to Malaysiakini, PAS vice-president Iskandar Samad said the party would discuss the development in a meeting already scheduled for yesterday.

PAS member Mahfuz Omar, who attended the roundtable as an opposition lawmaker, told reporters that whether or not PAS joins PH, the ultimate aim is to ensure one-on-one contests against BN in the next general election to avoid splitting opposition votes. He pointed out this was the case even when there was no PR, which was formed shortly after the 2008 General Election. The 2008 polls saw BN suffer the loss of five states and its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time.

PR's break-up was the result of internal strife largely between DAP and PAS. The two finally severed ties in June over PAS' push for hudud, which DAP and PKR argued was not part of PR's agreed policies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia's opposition forms Pakatan Harapan alliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe