Malaysia's opposition bloc won't cooperate with PAS at next GE

Pakatan Harapan's stance may result in 3-cornered fights that may split support - to ruling coalition's benefit

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's opposition pact Pakatan Harapan said yesterday it will not cooperate with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) at the next general election, raising the possibility of three-cornered fights that will split opposition support and benefit the ruling coalition.

Harapan is working on a strategy to avoid three-cornered contests, it said in a statement yesterday, without providing further details.

The pact is made up of four parties - Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara.

PAS had teamed up with Keadilan and DAP as Pakatan Rakyat in the last two general elections in 2008 and 2013, but the successful alliance broke up in 2015 largely due to policy disputes surrounding PAS' Islamic agenda.

According to Bloomberg, the opposition has failed to capitalise on gains made in the 2013 election, when it won the popular vote for the first time, though Harapan is betting that dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Najib Razak over living costs will be enough to sway voters.

Still, yesterday's statement confirms that Harapan and PAS have failed to come to a compromise on which seats to contest in order to collectively dislodge the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

The next election is due to be called by the middle of next year, with speculation Datuk Seri Najib may call it sooner.

PAS has been enjoying closer ties with Mr Najib's Umno after the latter party supported the tabling of PAS' controversial syariah Bill in Parliament earlier this year.

PAS has been accused by the opposition of working with Umno to ensure Mr Najib remains in power.

PAS also openly challenged its former allies last Thursday, when it said it would contest at least 42 of the 56 state seats in opposition-ruled Selangor, including wards held by Keadilan leaders Azmin Ali and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

The two Keadilan leaders had made overtures to PAS as recently as two weeks ago, adopting the practical but potentially divisive stance that Keadilan should work with anyone who could help topple BN.

The opposition won control of Selangor, Malaysia's richest state which surrounds the capital Kuala Lumpur, in 2008.

But without PAS as an ally, the state government led by Keadilan holds a razor-thin majority, where the loss of even one seat would result in a hung assembly.

Despite these concerns however, Keadilan appeared to fall in with the Harapan line on PAS yesterday.

Keadilan president Wan Azizah said the party had decided to honour its pact with the other Harapan parties and work towards strengthening the opposition bloc, reported the Malay Mail Online.

"We have made a decision that Keadilan will continue to be committed to efforts of strengthening Pakatan Harapan as well as strategising to defeat Umno-Barisan Nasional in the 14th general election," she said in a statement yesterday after the party's political bureau meeting.

Party communications director Fahmi Fadzil refused to divulge further details about the meeting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysia's opposition bloc won't cooperate with PAS at next GE'. Print Edition | Subscribe