All eyes are on the three-cornered fight that will take place in Selangor in Malaysia's upcoming general election.
The two giants in the ring are opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan, which is led in the state by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), and ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), headed by Umno. Between them stands potential vote-splitter and kingmaker Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
When the opposition first swept to power in Selangor in 2008 in its former guise as Pakatan Rakyat, it had the support of PAS. But its fate in the ballot due by August next year now hangs in the balance, after PAS decided to go its own way in 2015.
Without PAS, Harapan holds only a razor-thin majority of 29 of the 56 seats in the state assembly. And if BN teams up with PAS, it will command 25 seats, enough to give Harapan a run for its money. The two remaining seats are held by independents.
Most observers believe that a three-cornered battle would benefit BN. State think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan found in a survey last year that in Selangor, opposition parties had more support than BN in straight fights. However, in a three-way contest, the ruling coalition stood a good chance of victory, while PAS was the least likely to succeed.
Hence both Harapan and BN stand to gain from teaming up with PAS, which, despite its dim election prospects, has announced ambitious plans to field candidates in 42 state and 15 parliamentary wards in Selangor.
The national leaderships of Harapan and PAS have publicly dismissed any chance of cooperating to avoid clashes at the election, but The Straits Times understands that state-level discussions behind closed doors are being held.
"PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang sent a message to PKR saying the door is shut, but not locked," a top Harapan leader told ST.
Nonetheless, some Harapan leaders believe they can retain Selangor even if the alliance has to take on both BN and PAS.
Democratic Action Party (DAP) election strategist Ong Kian Ming said the that entry of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia into Harapan will dent Malay support for Umno and PAS.
"The projections clearly show that PAS cannot prevent Harapan from forming the next government in Selangor. It cannot win enough Malay support on its own to win any state seats," said the Serdang MP.
Umno's state assembly coordinator Mat Nadzari Ahmad Dahlan told ST that it is targeting at least 33 wins, in the same number of areas that have around 60 per cent or more Malay voters.
These would avoid the seats - won by DAP - which have a significant Chinese electorate.