Malaysia op­po­si­tion col­lapses in boon for gov’t


The op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal al­liance that has threat­ened to un­seat Malaysia’s long­time regime has col­lapsed amid a dis­pute over Is­lamic law, a top leader said Tues­day, in what an­a­lysts called a boon for the coun­try’s be­lea­guered gov­ern­ment.

The fu­ture of the coali­tion was un­clear, how­ever, as one of the par­ties in­volved in­sisted it was still com­mit­ted to the al­liance and some an­a­lysts said a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was pos­si­ble.

Demo­cratic Ac­tion Party (DAP) chief Lim Guan Eng said his party would no longer work with the Pan-Malaysian Is­lamic Party (PAS), with whom the sec­u­lar DAP has clashed over the lat­ter’s calls for strict Is­lamic law.

The two par­ties are part of the seven-year-old tri­par­tite Pakatan Rakyat (Peo­ple’s Pact) al­liance.

“Pakatan Rakyat there­fore ceases to ex­ist,” Lim said in a state­ment.

The de­vel­op­ment will come as a re­lief to the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, which has steadily lost sup­port to the op­po­si­tion and has been be­set anew this year by dam­ag­ing fi­nan­cial scan­dals and con­cerns over his han­dling of the econ­omy.

The PAS’ youth wing leader, how­ever, said his bloc re­mained com­mit­ted to the al­liance.

“We are still with Pakatan. The DAP’s de­ci­sion will not dis­solve the coali­tion,” Nik Mo­hamad Ab­duh Nik Ab­dul Aziz was quoted say­ing by The Malaysian por­tal.

The two par­ties have been in­creas­ingly at odds over PAS’ calls for Is­lamic crim­i­nal penal­ties such as the sev­er­ing of limbs for theft in a north­ern state that the con­ser­va­tive Is­lamist party con­trols.

Though multi- racial Malaysia is Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity, the mea­sure would be un­con­sti­tu­tional and im­ple­men­ta­tion is con­sid­ered un­likely.

Pakatan Rakyat was formed in 2008, unit­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties who were pre­vi­ously pushed around by the rul­ing coali­tion that has gov­erned since in­de­pen­dence in 1957.

The op­po­si­tion al­liance won 52 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote in 2013 elec­tions, tap­ping into grow­ing

In­sider news re­sent­ment of al­leged au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism on the part of the pow­er­ful United Malays Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UMNO), which dom­i­nates the rul­ing coali­tion, and its re­cur­ring cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

It failed to take power due to UMNO ger­ry­man­der­ing, but raised the spec­tre of a his­toric change of gov­ern­ment.

‘Di­vide and con­quer strat­egy’

UMNO has deftly played on the DAP-PAS fra­cas — even of­fer­ing PAS some sup­port in the Is­lamic law ini­tia­tive — to sow di­vi­sion, said Ibrahim Suf­fian, head of the Merdeka Cen­ter polling firm.

“UMNO... are in a very good po­si­tion now. Their di­vide-and­con­quer strat­egy has worked for them,” he said, adding that Na­jib, “de­spite all of his prob­lems... has im­proved his prospects for the next elec­tion.”

The next polls are due by 2018. Cur­rently, the DAP holds 37 of par­lia­ment’s 222 seats, while PKR has 28 and PAS 21.

The op­po­si­tion al­liance had ear­lier been hit in Fe­bru­ary by the jail­ing of its charis­matic leader An­war Ibrahim, whose di­verse and cen­trist Peo­ple’s Jus­tice Party (PKR) is the third com­po­nent of Pakatan.

PKR has not yet made a state­ment on Pakatan’s claimed demise.

Con­sid­ered Pakatan’s glue, An­war was im­pris­oned for five years on sodomy charges he calls a gov­ern­ment con­spir­acy to halt the op­po­si­tion’s ad­vances.

The sec­u­lar DAP rep­re­sents mostly eth­nic Chi­nese, while PAS con­tends with UMNO for the sup­port of Mus­lim eth­nic Malays, the coun­try’s ma­jor­ity group.

Many po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts have noted that Malaysian pol­i­tics is un­pre­dictable, and a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, or the birth of a new op­po­si­tion al­liance, re­mains pos­si­ble.

“Two and a half years (un­til the next polls) in pol­i­tics is a very long time and I would not be sur­prised if Pakatan rises from the ashes,” said Amir Fa­reed Rahim, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst with con­sult­ing firm KRA Group.

He said PAS and the DAP could bury the hatchet, or PAS’ siz­able pro­gres­sive wing could form a new party that stays in the op­po­si­tion al­liance.

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