PKR won't cut ties with DAP and PAS

The opposition alliance lost Anwar Ibrahim (left) to jail in February. While the alliance is practically over, the parties are likely to maintain ties over Selangor, run by PKR deputy president Azmin Ali (right).
The opposition alliance lost Anwar Ibrahim (left) to jail in February. While the alliance is practically over, the parties are likely to maintain ties over Selangor, run by PKR deputy president Azmin Ali (right).PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

It needs their support to maintain its majority in Selangor state assembly

MALAYSIA'S opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has been pronounced dead but its component parties are trying to keep alive ties that sustain the opposition grip on the key state of Selangor.

Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail yesterday announced that PR could no longer "function formally". She was speaking a day after the Democratic Action Party (DAP) said that the pact was dead, blaming ideological differences with the third party in the alliance, the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah, the wife of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, however, also said that PKR will not cut its ties with the DAP and PAS, blaming neither but chiding both for precipitating a crisis. "PR no longer functions formally," she said in a statement, emphasising  that PKR would continue to support the DAP-led Penang state government and the PAS-led Kelantan state government.

  • Possible realignments

  • TWO of the three component parties of Malaysia's opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), have declared that their seven-year-old pact is dead. The sudden development has thrown up the possibility that the opposition parties and even the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) will seek new realignments, like the ones listed below:

    A NEW OPPOSITION PACT

    ANALYSTS believe the Democratic Action Party (DAP)  and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will try to link up with a new partner to form a new opposition pact before the next general election because this remains their only realistic path to defeating BN.  Along with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), PR has 87 seats in Parliament against BN's 134. A possible partner is a new party mooted by PasMa, a PAS splinter group formed last year.  Following the conservative sweep in PAS' party elections earlier this month and the collapse of PR, PasMa said it was in discussion with several leaders and parties to set up a new moderate Islamic party that could cooperate with both PKR and DAP.

    "It is back to square one until they find a replacement vehicle for PAS. May or may not be PasMa. PR needs a party for Islamists and rural areas, something PKR is not good at," said Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

    PAS AND UMNO COALITION

    THE possibility of a unity government of PAS and Umno - the key, Malay-based party in BN - has been talked about since before the 2013 General Election. With the conservatives now dominating PAS, it is increasingly likely that the two parties may be tempted to work together. However, it is unclear if Umno is willing to risk breaking up its own multiracial coalition to embrace the Islamist PAS. Although Umno supported the PAS-run Kelantan government's plans to adopt hudud or Islamic law in the state in March this year,  Prime Minister Najib Razak has yet to make his stand on hudud.

    "It is most unlikely that Umno will accept PAS in a Malay/Muslim-only unity government as this will mean the effective breakup of the Barisan as a multiracial, multi-religious coalition," said Centre for Policy Initiatives director Lim Teck Ghee.

    However, Penang Institute fellow Wong Chin Huat said Umno might compromise, allowing PAS safe seats in Kelantan and Terengganu in the next general election.

    "What will likely happen is a covert pact between the two, with PAS attacking DAP, PKR and the PAS pragmatists if they leave the party.

    "Since it is in the interest of Umno to keep PAS floating, Umno will not put up a full fight in some seats in Kelantan and Terengganu so that PAS will survive with 10 seats or so. A complete collapse of hardliners within PAS will drive the Islamist voters to the splinter party, PKR or even DAP."

    ASRUL HADI ABDULLAH SANI

Her decision to preserve the relationship with PAS appears to be aimed at safeguarding the state government in Selangor, the richest state in Malaysia. PKR cannot sustain a majority in the 57-seat state assembly without the support of both PAS and DAP.  

However, PAS does not hold any influence in the Penang state assembly as it has only one lawmaker while DAP dominates the 40-seat state legislature with 29 assemblymen. PAS, on the other hand, controls the Kelantan state assembly with 32 out of 45 seats. DAP has no representatives while PKR has only one.     

Dr Wan Azizah also said her party would not stop efforts to build a new coalition "among political parties, non-governmental organisations, groups and influential individuals to defeat Barisan Nasional (BN)", referring to the ruling coalition.

Although BN has yet to comment on PR's demise, the rupture will  only strengthen its argument that PR has always been a "marriage of convenience". PR was formed in April 2008 after the three opposition parties worked together to deny BN its usual two-thirds majority in the March general election. It came close to defeating BN in the 2013 General Election, winning 50.87 per cent of the popular vote but only 40 per cent of the federal Parliament.

On Tuesday, the DAP had tried to pressure the Selangor government to drop its PAS representatives, with its secretary-general Lim Guan Eng saying DAP would support the state Menteri Besar Azmin Ali "to reframe the state government with a new functioning coalition".

Mr  Azmin, the PKR deputy president, has been reluctant to be caught in the middle of the spat between the two parties. 

Some analysts, like Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan, say PAS should be expelled from the Selangor government because the party no longer conforms to PR's common policy framework. Mr Azmin could easily form a new coalition with members from PKR and DAP and those willing to jump ship from PAS.

Analysts say the biggest beneficiaries of PR's disintegration are Umno and the ruling BN.

"Despite being deeply unpopular and beset by many issues ranging from a slowing economy, GST and the leadership troubles, its future appears less terminal given that its main opponents have unravelled," said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

 He believes PKR is the biggest loser as it now has to face both PAS and Umno in a three-cornered fight in the next elections.

 asruls@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'PKR won't cut ties with DAP and PAS'. Print Edition | Subscribe