New Malaysian party calls for opposition unity

At the Pakatan Harapan convention yesterday were (front row, from left) DAP leader Lim Kit Siang, Keadilan president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, her husband and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and
At the Pakatan Harapan convention yesterday were (front row, from left) DAP leader Lim Kit Siang, Keadilan president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, her husband and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and Selangor Mentri Besar and top Keadilan official Azmin Ali.ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

Mahathir-led Bersatu urges allies to avoid multi-cornered contests at next election

Malaysia's newly formed opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has called on its allies in Pakatan Harapan (PH) to work on avoiding multi-cornered fights at the next election.

At a PH convention yesterday, Bersatu leaders repeatedly stressed the need for one-to-one contests against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), saying that opposition forces could fall otherwise.

"Because we know if there's a three-cornered fight, the possibility for BN to win is very high," said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former premier and now vociferous critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Leaders of Bersatu, which has not officially joined the PH alliance, were invited as guest speakers to the convention involving the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Malay-led multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah), a spin-off from disgruntled members of the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Dr Mahathir, Bersatu chairman, said whether the party joins the opposition alliance depends on ongoing negotiations over seat distribution with PAS, which broke off from the alliance over differences with the DAP. Amanah formed following the fallout within opposition ranks.

Once regarded as a formidable foe against BN following its surprisingly strong showing in the 2013 election - in which it managed to secure the popular vote and deprive the ruling coalition of its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament - Malaysia's opposition has been hamstrung since the disintegration of PH last year.

Absent from the convention yesterday was PAS, which stated publicly that it would not be present in the same room as the DAP.

Bersatu is the latest addition to an already crowded opposition field. Led by Dr Mahathir and ousted deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, it is also a splinter party made up mostly of ex-members of Umno, the biggest component of the ruling coalition.

In spite of the deep differences, Mr Muhyiddin said yesterday the opposition needed "to find a formula" in seat contests.

"This would mean the sacrifice of some parties to avoid facing each other (in an election), in order to achieve the bigger goal of saving Malaysia from this cruel regime," he said, addressing the convention.

Bersatu is in the midst of negotiating with PAS leaders to resolve the issue of seat allocations, with party leaders hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon.

"We are trying to make clear to them that a three-cornered fight is going to kill us. If there is a one-to- one, chances are that the opposition would win," said Dr Mahathir.

There is also talk now of possibly having two opposition alliances.

A top Keadilan official, Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali, said his party was considering this. A party insider later told The Sunday Times that Keadilan could be part of the current alliance with the DAP as well as another new pact with PAS.

The DAP and Keadilan bases are largely in urban areas while PAS is strong in the rural Malay heartlands. Amanah is still relatively new and Bersatu is dependent upon disgruntled Umno supporters.

Judging from the convention yesterday, at least some in the opposition are hoping to play into each party's strengths to gain votes.

Keadilan leader Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, wrapped up the convention with a rallying cry: "One against one."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'New Malaysian party calls for opposition unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe