News analysis

Opposition spats in Malaysia miss opportunity, confuse voters

Parties should form alliance again if they want chance at ballot box amid discontent with BN govt: Analysts

KUALA LUMPUR • PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang insists on remaining in the opposition camp, yet also wants to work with ruling party Umno. PKR chief Wan Azizah Wan Ismail angered her party when she launched a new opposition pact without agreement from her senior colleagues. And DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, it seems, has more venom these days for PAS than for Umno.

At a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Umno party are in a political haze, the opposition parties are themselves in a maze of their own.

Welcome to the bewildering Lost World of Malaysian politics.

Datuk Seri Najib has been busy fending off attacks from his own party and the Barisan Nasional (BN) parties over state investment vehicle 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the US$700 million (S$980.7 million) discovered in his bank accounts.

There is high public discontent over rising costs of living, mostly caused by the 6 per cent goods and services tax introduced in April.

Malaysia's opposition leaders during better times in 2009, when they launched the Pakatan Rakyat alliance. With PKR's de-facto chief, Anwar Ibrahim (centre), behind bars, ties between the DAP's secretary- general Lim Guan Eng (left) and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang (right) have deteriorated. PHOTO: REUTERS

The opposition, really, does not have to do much to get voters in the bag. Yet the opposition parties are busy fighting one another and are beset with internal tussles.

"It is unfortunate that the opposition is fighting among themselves when they are at an advantage now" against the Umno-led BN, said National University of Malaysia's senior fellow, Associate Professor Ahmad Nidzamuddin Sulaiman.

In Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the spat got so bad that a group of former leaders left in June to form the splinter Parti Amanah Negara.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which last year saw an internal fight for the Selangor chief minister's post, is riven by a shadowy tussle between those who support Datuk Seri Wan Azizah and those who back her deputy president, Mr Azmin Ali.

Dr Wan Azizah made things worse when she helped launch the new Pakatan Harapan (Hope Alliance), or PH, group in September without agreement from the Azmin faction.

Excluded from PH, PAS is insisting that the previous Pakatan Rakyat is still intact though minus its former ally, the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The PKR, torn between two lovers, wants to work with both PAS and DAP.

Confused? Most people are.

A simple way to look at what is happening is like this: The three main opposition parties of DAP, PAS and PKR are trying to sort out their game after big wins in the last two general elections, analysts say.

They now have three states - the DAP controls Penang, PKR leads in Selangor and PAS is holding on to Kelantan.

But there is realisation that winning federal power in the next national polls due in 2018 will be a mammoth task, especially as the superglue to the three parties, Anwar Ibrahim, is behind bars.

To its critics, each party has flaws if it stands on its own. PAS is too Islamic, DAP too Chinese-centric, and PKR has weak leadership and poor grassroots support.

Tired of overtures by PAS to work more closely with Umno, DAP's Selangor chief, Mr Tony Pua, said last Friday that it wants to put up candidates in 12 Selangor seats to fight the Islamic party.

PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli told The Straits Times that it makes more sense to avoid three- cornered fights as it would be detrimental to the opposition.

And what do voters think of all these twists and turns?

"I am very much at a loss on who to vote for, what with BN seen as so corrupt and the opposition is no better because they can't deliver to the people," Mr Lam Foo Tseng, 29, a voter in KL, told The Straits Times.

The opposition was too rushed in abandoning PAS and should compromise by forming an electoral pact again, said Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak from Malaysia's National Council of Professors.

"PH needs to get PAS into its fold or it might lose support from Malay heartland voters because PAS is still a trump card," he said.

"They need to focus on running the states they govern properly, better than BN".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Opposition spats in Malaysia miss opportunity, confuse voters News analysis'. Print Edition | Subscribe