Opposition parties singing same tune

Show of unity for the hustings will be put to the test once polling is over

Chinese voters getting the PAS symbol painted on their faces in Kluang, Johor, on Saturday morning. The Islamist party's willingness to allow its ally DAP to use the PAS logo represents a shift in Malaysian politics. -- ST PHOTO: TRACY QUEK

TERESA Teng's song - The Moon Represents My Heart - is a perennial favourite of Malaysia's Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The evergreen hit took on a deeper meaning last week when the DAP declared that it was prepared to run in the general election using the full moon logo of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), its partner in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance.

Even though the rejection of nomination papers filed by DAP candidates using the party's own rocket symbol did not happen on Nomination Day on Saturday, the Islamist party's willingness to quickly allow its ally to use the PAS logo represents a big shift in Malaysian politics, akin to, well, sending a rocket to the moon.

There were scenes of Chinese men whose cheeks were painted with PAS' flag of a white moon on a green background in Johor on Saturday. And Malays in Muslim skull caps holding up DAP flags.

"This is an unexpected twist in the general election which is certainly benefiting the opposition. But it will also be a positive development for Malaysian politics overall," said Mr Yang Razali Kassim, senior fellow with the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

"The opposition has been energised as a more cohesive and unified coalition, driving Malaysian politics further down the road of a two-coalition system," he added.

For the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN), what is happening might hurt the ruling coalition.

It had been easy in the past to use DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang as a "Chinese chauvinist" bogeyman to scare off Malay voters, and the turbaned PAS president Hadi Awang to stop Chinese voters from backing a party with plans to implement strict Islamic laws.

"This could be bad for Umno because how do you attack Lim Kit Siang as anti-Islam if he is using the PAS logo?" said Mr Ramli Yunus, an Umno division secretary in Kedah.

The brouhaha over the party symbol started when the Registrar of Societies (ROS) notified the DAP last week that it did not recognise the party's office-bearers elected last December due to problems with tabulations in the DAP's election results.

The opposition claimed the ROS was trying to bar DAP from using its rocket logo on ballot papers, thus confusing voters.

PAS then said DAP could use its moon logo in Peninsular Malaysia while Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the third member of PR, said DAP could use its one-eye symbol in Sabah and Sarawak.

BN leaders accused the DAP of hyping up a non-issue to gain sympathy votes.

Still, the matter showed how quickly the Chinese-based DAP and its Islamist partner PAS had closed ranks, despite big differences in ideologies.

The DAP is promoting its "Malaysian Malaysia" slogan with its subtext meaning of removing the bumiputera affirmative-action policy that had enlarged the Malay community's economic pie and educational levels.

PAS, despite its current slogans of a "Welfare Society", still has ambitions to implement strict Islamic laws that include amputation of thieves' limbs, and the curbing of alcohol sales and gaming activities.

Yet, the PR alliance is far from showing complete harmony, especially for a group that trumpets loudly that it could run the federal government better than the 13-party BN.

One example of this is the fight over seat allocations in the elections. PAS and PKR are fighting each other in one parliamentary and six state seats.

And if the PR takes federal power, the huge question of who would be prime minister has not yet been settled, let alone who would take charge of key portfolios such as finance, foreign affairs, international trade and defence.

PAS supporters want Datuk Seri Hadi, not PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim, to be prime minister.

For now, the opposition is casting aside these differences, and singing the same song.

As the late Taiwanese songbird croons: "You ask me how deep is my love for you... the moon represents my heart."

But what happens when the music stops?

The answer will come when 13.3 million Malaysians cast their vote on May 5.

Background story

The Straits Times will bring you news and analysis of Malaysia's closely contested campaign from journalists in the ST newsroom and our team of correspondents in the field: Carolyn Hong, Anita Gabriel, Yong Yen Nie and Tessa Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Lester Kong in Sabah, Teo Cheng Wee in Penang, Reme Ahmad in Kedah and Perlis, Salim Osman in Kelantan, Leonard Lim in Sarawak, Zakir Hussain, Tracy Quek and Joyce Lim in Johor, Tham Yuen-C in Terengganu, Tan Hui Yee in Perak with photographers Kua Chee Siong in Johor, Kevin Lim in Kedah and Caroline Chia in Pahang.