KUALA LUMPUR • As Malaysia's new government heads into its first official day of work today, cracks in the hastily put-together Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance have begun to show right after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in last Thursday.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail - whose party holds the most parliamentary seats in the coalition - is deputy premier, but sources told The Straits Times that she also demanded other senior portfolios for the party. This included the coveted finance portfolio, which Tun Dr Mahathir announced in a press conference on Saturday would instead go to Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.
"She did not question Guan Eng's capability, but said that a Chinese should not take the role," a top PH leader said, referring to ethnic political considerations in government posts in Malay-majority Malaysia.
Mr Lim, whose party is the second largest in the coalition, later told reporters: "I don't consider myself Chinese. I am a Malaysian."
Datuk Seri Wan Azizah pulled out of negotiations early on both Friday and Saturday, citing the need to consult with her jailed husband and de facto PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently being treated in a Kuala Lumpur hospital. Dr Mahathir's decision to go ahead with announcing Mr Lim as Finance Minister, and two remaining PH chiefs as defence and home ministers, resulted in a backlash from PKR.
"He bulldozed it. He just unilaterally announced," said PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli, according to Malaysiakini.
But other leaders in the 14-month-old PH pact, including PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, confirmed that while PKR was not present in Saturday's negotiations, leaders from the other three alliance parties were there. "The question of bulldozing does not arise," DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke told The Straits Times.
To keep negotiations going, from late Saturday to yesterday, various PKR leaders and those from Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, including the Prime Minister himself, visited Datuk Seri Anwar in hospital. But the jockeying is continuing, especially between Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir's parties.
In PKR, a longstanding feud between the Wan Azizah and Azmin factions is continuing too.
Sources revealed that Dr Wan Azizah has not been forthcoming with her party's Cabinet nominees despite claiming a lion's share of portfolios. One name bandied about was Mr Rafizi's, but he denied yesterday he wanted to be a minister. He is appealing against two convictions for leaking confidential documents.
Dr Mahathir has now asked the four parties to put forward three candidates each to form the rest of his core 10 ministers.