Commentary Politics

Opposition too fractured for a single banner

opposition

Shahrum Sayuthi
Written by Shahrum Sayuthi

March 16 2017

PRIBUMI Bersatu leaders had on Tuesday agreed for the party to join the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition with the aim of enabling a straight fight against Barisan Nasional in the next general election.

They proposed for their party, DAP, Amanah and PKR to contest under a common logo and manifesto as well as fielding a single candidate for every electoral seat.

Pribumi Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, while announcing the decision also said his party wished for the proposed coalition to have a new name.

He expressed confidence that DAP, Amanah and PKR will agree with the proposal, stressing that the opposition parties should realise by now that failing to do so would only cause another defeat for them at the polls.

“We will discuss this further once we are all in the coalition. But the principle here is that we will only field one candidate for each seat to represent the coalition. Then we will urge all of the coalition members to support and vote for that one candidate,” Dr Mahathir said.

If Dr Mahathir and his followers get their wishes on the matter, it would be the first time that BN would face a formal rival coalition in a general election.

Interestingly, if that happens, it would also mean that Pribumi Bersatu, being the most junior of the opposition parties, has successfully dictated what the others should do over a matter which they had previously failed to achieve.

The idea of a formal coalition to face BN was first floated before the last general election in 2013 when the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition coalition toyed with the idea of contesting under a single banner.

A look back at what happened along the timeline of that previous attempt to set up such a formal opposition coalition, may nonetheless suggest that the parties involved were not actually very serious about it.

It started with a statement by the Registrar of Society (RoS) in October 2009 that the informal PR coalition, formed just over a year earlier, could register as a coalition. Following that, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang immediately announced that PR would seek to register itself as a formal coalition.

A month later, PR announced that it had submitted a formal application to the RoS, naming Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who had several months earlier quit Umno and was then a PKR rising star, as chairman of the alliance.

This was however promptly denied by then PKR information chief Tian Chua, who said that the coalition had not yet decided on a constitution, logo, or leadership structure.

PR had then once more made an announcement in February 2010, that it had made a fresh application to RoS as “Pakatan Rakyat Malaysia” because the name “Pakatan Rakyat” is still being registered and processed under Zaid’s name as the pro-tem chairman.

RoS however said it cannot consider any other application that has the same phrase in it, and has asked PR to file another application.

Almost two years later PR announced in November 2011, that it had appointed Pas central committee member Kamarudin Jaffar to make a fresh application.

However, then RoS director-general Abdul Rahman Othman said Kamaruddin had never approached his department on the matter. He said RoS would not have any problem to approve PR’s registration had Kamaruddin made the request.

There was no more serious attempt to register PR as a formal coalition after that.

PR in the end contested the general election in 2013 as an informal coalition with DAP, Pas and PKR contesting under their respective banners.

It was widely believed at that time that the three parties were more comfortable using their own banners and having their own manifesto which appealed to their respective set of core supporters who were of different racial and religious backgrounds.

Despite significant gains it made in that election, PR collapsed in June 2015 after bitter fightings between Pas and DAP whose ideologies were poles apart.

PH which is supposed to be a replacement of PR is very obviously not even close in strength without Pas and its hardline Islamist appeal among the more conservative anti-establishment Malay Muslim crowd.

This was evident when members of the new opposition coalition were soundly beaten in the Sarawak election and the following Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections last year.

The fractured opposition showed no sign of healing with Dr Mahathir’s Pribumi Bersatu coming into the picture.

The years of animosity between opposition die-hards of PH and the former prime minister’s faction, made up of Umno renegades, proved hard to mend especially at the grassroots level.

The resentment boils over in several instances such as when several DAP lawmakers and their supporters in Malacca quit their party recently, citing their unhappiness with the party’s direction, which many believed to be due to the new friendship between top DAP leaders with their once arch-enemy Dr Mahathir.

Now with Dr Mahathir and his followers becoming more exerting in what they want within the opposition camp, it could be expected that the friction will worsen.

Even if the leadership of DAP, Amanah and PKR are willing to accommodate the wishes of Pribumi Bersatu, the rank and file who have been opposing BN for years or even decades may not take it too kindly that they are being subjected to the whims and fancies of an upstart party whose members are mostly not too long ago, their enemies.

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Shahrum Sayuthi

Shahrum Sayuthi