PKR yet to be convinced on need for Penang polls

Party questions purpose of snap election that its ally DAP is mulling over

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) may be considering calling for a snap election in Penang, but its ally Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) said last night it is not convinced of the need to do so.

PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, in a statement issued after a leadership meeting, said: "We have not been convinced of the purpose or objective to hold snap polls. 

"But the PKR leadership is ready to continue discussions with leaders of Pakatan Harapan's component parties about this issue."

She was referring to the opposition coalition.

DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who reports had said would attend the PKR meeting, did not turn up.

Since Lim was charged with two counts of corruption two weeks ago, DAP leaders have been mulling over a snap election, banking on public anger over the charges that the party said are politically motivated.

But analysts warned that holding the snap polls may cost Pakatan Harapan (PH) to lose more seats in both state and federal elections.

"It's an unhelpful move for the group," said Mr Ibrahim Suffian, director of the independent pollster Merdeka Centre.

While the DAP is widely expected to hold on to its 19 seats in the Penang state assembly, PKR could lose its seats in areas with more Malay voters. Moreover, their other partner, Parti Amanah Negara, is still fairly new.

"The opposition have a problem coordinating to win the Malay vote. If their aim is to win power at the federal level, they need to look at the reality," said Mr Ibrahim.

PH lost two recent by-elections to the ruling Barisan Nasional. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), PH's former ally, also took part in the elections.

Mr Wong Chin Huat, a fellow at the Penang Institute, a think-tank affiliated to the state government, said PAS could pose a threat in areas where PH won its seats by narrow margins.

Meanwhile, DAP yesterday said it would postpone its party polls, due in September, to allow members to focus on the next general election due by the middle of 2018.

"They have to find ways to win elections at a federal level, not just the state level," Mr Ibrahim said of PH. But PKR could be on the losing end if snap polls are called, he added.

However, Mr Wong sees a fresh election as an option for a government whose legitimacy has been challenged. "Through a snap election, it can affirm its mandate and also plan for succession," he said.

The opposition won a two-thirds majority in Penang in the 2013 general election. But much has happened since then, with the opposition plagued by problems - ranging from the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to the fallout with PAS.

By focusing on smaller battles, Mr Ibrahim cautioned that the opposition could end up being distracted from its main goal of defeating the ruling BN.

"They may win Penang but they'll lose Malaysia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'PKR yet to be convinced on need for Penang polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe