KUALA LUMPUR - Negotiations on an electoral pact between opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and former Cabinet minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman's Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) for the Johor election have collapsed.
Mr Syed Saddiq said on Friday (Feb 18) that official negotiations between both parties were considered to be over after PKR decided it would name its candidates for the remaining seven out of 20 seats it is contesting, effectively closing the door on ceding any seats to Muda.
The collapse of the deal could put Muda on a collision course with the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) led by Datuk Seri Anwar, should it choose to contest seats where PKR is fielding candidates.
Muda is a youth-based party that will be making its electoral debut in Johor.
It is not a part of PH, but has agreed to individually negotiate with the pact's three member parties to get each of them to cede a few seats to it.
Although its talks with PKR have failed, Muda reached an accord with PH's two other components, Parti Amanah Negara and Democratic Action Party (DAP), last week. Amanah ceded four out of its 20-seat share in Johor to Muda, while DAP ceded two out of the 16 seats it was supposed to contest.
The negotiations took place under PH's "big tent" policy - an attempt to unite all opposition parties and prevent multi-cornered fights that tend to work against the opposition parties. The strategy is meant to enable PH to present a united front for a general election widely expected later this year.
Muda had wanted three seats - Larkin, Kempas and Gambir - from PKR, but the three offered to them were entirely different. Both failed to agree on a resolution ahead of a self-imposed deadline on Sunday (Feb 13).
Mr Anwar initially seemed to have left some room for negotiations when he announced candidates for only 13 seats on Monday despite being scheduled to announce all 20.
But the prospects of a deal looked gloomy as the seats announced included the three seats that Muda had been negotiating.
No progress was reported despite both parties publicly reiterating their commitment to work out a deal. Mr Anwar is now scheduled to announce the rest of the PKR candidates during another trip to central Johor on Saturday (Feb 19).
Johor PKR chairman Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said on Friday that as Muda did not take up PKR’s offer of three seats, the negotiations could not continue.
“The three seats demanded by Muda are urban mixed seats that can’t easily be conceded without factoring in the strength of PKR,” he said in a statement.
Muda’s Mr Syed Saddiq said that the party still intends to prevent multi-cornered clashes with PH in Johor and that it is still open to any fresh negotiations to that end.
Muda members will meet this weekend to decide the next course of action, but Mr Syed Saddiq has hinted that PKR and Muda might end up clashing with each other.
"If the seat overlap between PKR and Muda can't be averted, Muda leaves the decision in the hands of Johor voters," he said.
However, Mr Syed Ibrahim urged Muda not to resort to threats of seat clashes.
“Let’s not affect the opposition’s solidarity for the sake of demands alone,” he said.
Muda's clash with PKR would further diminish PH's chances of repeating its electoral performance in 2018, when it formed the Johor government for the first time. The state government collapsed in 2020 due to defections.
PH is already set to contend with former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang), which is contesting 42 seats in the 56-seat state assembly on its own. Like Muda, Pejuang is making its electoral debut in Johor.
Parti Warisan, a multiracial opposition party led by former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal, will also contest several seats. Warisan will be making its debut outside of Sabah for the first time.
Both Pejuang and Warisan have not negotiated seats with PH despite the latter's ambition to unite all opposition parties.
PH is in need of a positive electoral performance after faring poorly in both the Melaka and Sarawak state elections last year. In both elections, PKR returned empty-handed.
The party will be contesting in Johor under its own logo, while its PH partners DAP and Amanah will use the coalition's common logo.
The Johor polls take place on March 12, with nominations on Feb 26. Around 2.6 million voters will be eligible to cast their ballots during the election.