Malaysia opposition collapses in boon for beleaguered government
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’s 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 Insider news portal.
The two parties have been increasingly at odds over PAS’s 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 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-and-conquer 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’s sizable progressive wing could form a new party that stays in the opposition alliance.
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