Opposition split on PAS, risking hold on Selangor

Selangor Menteri Besar and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali (centre) and PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail called on Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang in a much-publicised visit on Aug 12.
Selangor Menteri Besar and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali (centre) and PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail called on Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang in a much-publicised visit on Aug 12.PHOTO: HADI AWANG'S FACEBOOK

Dissenters in Harapan alliance claim PAS working with Umno to keep Najib in power

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali faces revolt within the ranks of the opposition pact Pakatan Harapan, as he tries to persuade former ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to cooperate with the pact in the upcoming general election.

The dissenters accuse PAS of working with ruling party Umno to split the opposition's support and ensure Prime Minister Najib Razak stays in power.

Without PAS however, Datuk Seri Azmin, the Menteri Besar of Selangor, faces the prospect of losing the country's richest state to Umno.

When he was made Harapan's election director on Aug 14, Mr Azmin claimed that the pact had been holding informal discussions with PAS for months. "I think we need to step it up and find solutions as soon as possible because elections are just around the corner," he said.

But top opposition sources told The Sunday Times that such talks have not been approved by Harapan's leadership.

"Mathematicians can't be leaders," one said, referring to Mr Azmin's stand that Harapan needs the numbers provided by PAS' hardcore support within the Malay Muslim majority to dislodge the Umno-led ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

Others have asked why PKR continues to court PAS after PAS severed ties with PKR in May and the Islamic party's president Abdul Hadi Awang replaced Selangor PAS chief Iskandar Abdul Samad - seen as supportive of continued relations with PKR - with loyalist Sallehen Mukhyi.

"Sallehen has assured Azmin that PAS is committed to his government. But once an election is called, it is up to Hadi," said a source close to the chief minister.

PAS also openly challenged its former friends last Thursday, when it said it would contest at least 42 of the 56 state seats in Selangor, including wards held by Mr Azmin and PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

The Straits Times reported last Friday that Umno and PAS are wooing Mr Azmin's predecessor Abdul Khalid Ibrahim to lead a joint bid to take over Selangor. This effort could become a launchpad for similar agreements nationally to turn the tide against Harapan, which now boasts former premier Mahathir Mohamad as its chairman.

PAS, however, has denied it is working with Umno in Selangor, with Selangor state executive councillor Iskandar Abdul Samad dismissing the report as "mere speculation" and possibly an "international conspiracy" against the party.

Mr Azmin's government holds a razor-thin majority in Selangor without PAS, and the loss of even one seat would result in a hung assembly.

A PKR leader told The Sunday Times that Mr Azmin had presented to Tun Dr Mahathir a formula on how to divide Selangor's 56 assembly seats among the four Harapan parties and PAS.

The proposal would allow PAS to defend the 13 districts it currently holds. However, these seats are also claimed by Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara (PAN), a splinter group of former PAS leaders who disagreed with the party's decision in 2015 to end relations with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), Harapan's strongest party.

Dr Mahathir has not endorsed the plan as "he wants to win Malaysia, not just Selangor", the source said.

In a much-publicised visit two weeks ago, Mr Azmin called on Datuk Seri Hadi along with Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, after which Ms Wan Azizah insisted PKR would work with anyone to topple BN. But that insistence resulted in a backlash even within her party.

Selangor-based parliamentarian William Leong quit the PKR political bureau, saying: "I don't agree that the party continues cooperating with PAS when it is clear that PAS already has an arrangement with Umno."

Mr Hadi also reasserted last weekend that PAS would not work with DAP and those allied with it.

In an interview with Umno-controlled Berita Harian, he said "our decision is clear when we see the hardline stance against Islam that is displayed by DAP".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Opposition split on PAS, risking hold on Selangor'. Print Edition | Subscribe