Malaysia's opposition alliance has been locked for over a month in a tense stalemate over seats in Selangor, with longstanding grouses boiling to the surface. The four parties have busted two deadlines to finalise who will stand across the 56 state legislative wards.
A third and final cut-off looms today, before party chiefs in Malaysia's richest state have to relinquish negotiations to the national-level leaders of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in a forced compromise.
Selangor has been a stronghold of the federal opposition parties for the past decade, but the squabble has raised questions over whether they can unite and defend the state in a general election expected in the first half of the year.
The dispute over the 56 state assembly seats has seen a public and heated war of words, unlike the 222 Parliament seats nationwide settled behind closed-doors by top PH leaders.
The PH government in Selangor is headed by Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, who is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) deputy president.
The other PH members are the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Amanah Negara, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
The feud comes as the ruling Umno ramps up efforts to recapture the state it considers a prized jewel. Umno has recruited four of Datuk Seri Azmin's predecessors to lead its charge, including Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who is hell-bent on making the opposition regret its decision to replace him as Menteri Besar in 2014.
The Straits Times understands that at the centre of the dispute is PKR's attempt to claim at least half the state assembly seats, to ensure its state chairman, Mr Azmin, remains in control.
But PKR faces several obstacles, including from Tun Mahathir's increasingly ambitious party.
PPBM is insisting on being given the chance to defeat all 12 existing Umno assemblymen, which includes a third of the 21 wards contested by PKR in the last polls.
On Feb 8, when three PH parties said negotiations for 36 of the seats had been resolved, PPBM refused to agree.
"We have no choice but to take this matter to the PH presidential council if (Azmin) fails to address the problem," said PPBM state chief Abdul Rashid Asari last week, according to The New Straits Times.
Top PH sources told The Straits Times that frustration with Mr Azmin peaked last month when he said 80 per cent of Selangor state seats had been allocated after four meetings. The claim was quickly denied by Amanah and the DAP.
Unhappiness in PH over Mr Azmin's leadership had earlier stemmed from his insistence on holding the door open to continued cooperation with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in Selangor, despite the Islamist party moving closer to Umno.
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Azmin has said the door is now closed to PAS and that is a step in the right direction.
GOBIND SINGH DEO, Selangor DAP deputy chief.
"Azmin has said the door is now closed to PAS and that is a step in the right direction," Selangor DAP deputy chief Gobind Singh Deo told The Straits Times.
The combination of PKR-DAP-PAS from 2013 to 2015 gave the pact a two-thirds supermajority in the state assembly.
But this was lost when PAS split from the opposition alliance then known as Pakatan Rakyat. PH, the new opposition alliance minus PAS, is today just a seat away from a hung assembly.
The four-party PH could suffer further as PAS has vowed to contest in 42 Selangor state seats. In a three-way fight including the Umno-led Barisan Nasional, many see victory going to the ruling coalition.
There are other problems for Mr Azmin. The DAP and Amanah are also pushing to get more seats for the polls.
The Straits Times can reveal that DAP wants eight more seats than the 15 it won in 2013, and Amanah, which has two assemblymen, wants to take on all 20 seats contested by PAS.
Sources told The Straits Times that Mr Azmin had tried to woo as many as five PAS assemblymen to join PKR, instead of facing Umno and PH in three-way battles.
Chances that PH will resolve its seat negotiations today are slim, said one negotiator.
But The Straits Times understands that Mr Azmin has extended olive branches to PH state leaders over the past week and followed up with a meeting on Monday with Dr Mahathir to narrow their differences.