Malaysian opposition fights over by-elections

Mr Azmin, who is both Selangor's PKR chief and Menteri Besar, is attempting to get the opposition parties to compromise.
Mr Azmin, who is both Selangor's PKR chief and Menteri Besar, is attempting to get the opposition parties to compromise.

PKR wants PAS to let it contest in Selangor, expects Amanah to let PAS contest in Perak

Two by-elections that could boost a stuttering Malaysian opposition have instead inflamed strife due to prolonged negotiations between various factions within the four parties involved.

An earlier plan was for the opposition to put up either Islamist party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) or its splinter Amanah to face incumbent Umno in the Selangor and Perak by-elections on June 18. But a third opposition party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), has entered the fray.

Both Sungai Besar in Selangor and Kuala Kangsar in Perak were previously contested by PAS. The by-elections are being called following the deaths of the constituen- cies' MPs in a helicopter crash in Sarawak.

Sources told The Straits Times that Selangor PKR chief Azmin Ali - who is also the state's Menteri Besar - has negotiated with his PAS counterparts to allow PKR to take over the Sungai Besar contest. The other opposition parties will then allow the Islamist party to contest in Kuala Kangsar. "Azmin already met the Selangor PAS leaders last week to discuss the campaign in Sungai Besar," a source from his office said.

Datuk Seri Azmin is to meet Amanah next to convince the new party, which has yet to gain traction with voters, to drop the idea of contesting.

The public strife is bad news for the opposition parties as it comes soon after the Sarawak state elections in which they lost badly due to infighting.

PAS left the opposition alliance last year after feuding with PKR and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) over proposals to introduce Islamic criminal law and the choice of Menteri Besar in Selangor. Some PAS leaders who disagreed with president Abdul Hadi Awang's decisions left to start Amanah. PKR, DAP and Amanah then formed a new alliance called Pakatan Harapan.

Despite the new group's break-up with PAS, Mr Azmin chose to keep the Islamists in his Selangor government, with three of their leaders sitting in the 10-man state Cabinet, known as the executive council (exco).

"National PAS leaders are agreeable to Azmin's proposal. But their Selangor leadership don't want to give ground because they need to remain crucial in Selangor," a source familiar with the negotiations said. PAS Selangor leaders are worried that they might be weakened if PKR is allowed to contest in the Sungai Besar seat.

The Star reported yesterday that Mr Azmin met the three PAS exco members on Wednesday and told them to resign if they persisted in contesting in Sungai Besar. But Mr Azmin denied the allegation, calling it "madness", while a source from his office told The Straits Times that no such meeting occurred.

Despite being told by PAS to stay away from the two by-elections, Pakatan Harapan is keen to stand because it is not confident that the Islamist party will fight tooth-and- nail to defeat Umno. PAS and Umno leaders have backslapped one another and attended public functions together as friends in recent months.

Analysts believe three-way contests in Selangor and Perak would deliver victory to Umno, and a compromise between the opposition parties to ensure straight fights against embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak's party would be welcomed by voters as a sign of unity and maturity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysian opposition fights over by-elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe