One of the keys that is playing a role in tipping over Malaysia’s political system into the bin and spawning the possible establishment of a new unity party, is the apparent emasculation of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition that built the biggest opposition successes since Malaysia became an independent country.
The coalition was declared dead on Tuesday, May 16, after the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), its conservative Islamic wing refused to give up aspirations for fundamentalist rule in Kelantan, the only state it controls. Democratic Action Party Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang declared the coalition was awaiting “funeral rites.”
Lim blamed Abdul Hadi Awang, the PAS leader, for the death of the coalition, saying Hadi’s tactics had resulted in the destruction of the Common Policy Framework, put together by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim when he formed the coalition in 2008.
Coalition always a fragile dream
But from its birth seven years ago, the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, made up of the DAP, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which Anwar put together out of moderate ethnic Malays, disaffected UMNO members and other bits and pieces, was never really viable. However, given rising disillusion with the ruling corruption-ridden and race-haunted Barisan Nasional, the opposition stunned the Barisan in 2008, winning 82 of the 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat, or parliament and breaking the national coalition’s two-thirds hold on Parliament for the first time.
Then, in 2013, the party did even better, winning a 50.87 percent majority of the popular vote to 47.38% for the Barisan but gaining only 89 seats to 133 because of gerrymandering and the first-past-the-post electoral system. The Barisan and particularly Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak at that point, realizing it had to be neutralized, openly began courting PAS in an effort to break it up.
Now PAS, having risen to the Mayfly, appears to be attempting to align itself with UMNO in the belief that between the two of them they can take enough of the 60.1 percent of ethnic Malay votes to continue to dominate the politics of the country against the 22 percent of Chinese, 8 percent of Indians and the remainder which are mainly Christian tribes in Sabah and Sarawak.
To the frustration of the DAP and Parti Keadilan, Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS party leader, has moved inexorably toward supporting Najib despite the huge unfolding scandal over the state-funded investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
Deal with the Devil?
A pact with UMNO, however, could be a Faustian bargain and depends on keeping moderate ethnic Malays toeing the party line. Like most of the ethnic minorities, many want nothing to do with the law, called hudud, which calls for stoning adulterers and amputating the limbs of thieves.
“Malay votes are going to be split four ways or more, meaning state governments will be unstable along with the federal government,” said an ethnic Malay lawyer. He darkly predicted severe political turmoil. Another Malaysian source pointed out that the other two parties – DAP and Parti Keadilan – remain together in the coalition and could move forward more effectively without the impediment of the Islamic fundamentalists to recruit other moderate Malay votes that might be scared out of UMNO and PAS.