ANALYSIS: Can Anwar’s political skills save Pakatan?
AS cracks again surface in the Pakatan Rakyat, only the political skills of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim seem to be keeping the alliance from breaking up.
Anwar has repeatedly pronounced that disputes within the three Pakatan components — Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Pas and the DAP — would be ironed out collectively.
Without him, however, the trio have been hard put to find consensus, leaving the strange bedfellows even more dependent on the opposition leader’s charisma and powers of persuasion.
Anwar’s considerable talents may no longer be as freely available for Pakatan’s benefit now that he has his hands full fighting a sodomy charge.
He is not intervening yet, telling a meeting with his inner circle on Wednesday night that he will leave it to Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to resolve the quarrels between Pas and DAP in Kedah and between DAP and PKR in Penang.
The demolition of a pig abattoir in Alor Star on Wednesday had triggered the Kedah DAP’s exit from the Pas-led Pakatan state government. Its sole assemblyman Lee Guan Aik declared himself “independent and non-aligned”.
In Penang, PKR and the DAP-led state government are at loggerheads over the sacking of Seberang Prai municipal councillor Johari Kassim.
A PKR insider says Anwar is trusting the state Pakatan leaders to handle the widening rifts.
DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong believes in restricting statements to party secretary-general Lim until the party’s central executive committee makes a decision on the Kedah DAP’s action.
Anwar’s stance is predictable, minimising the discord until the squabbling threatens to get out of hand. So far, it has been effective.
PKR elections director Saifuddin Nasution Ismail brushes aside the latest spats among the Pakatan components as storms in a teacup.
He says there will be no repeat of 2001 when the DAP pulled out of the then Barisan Alternatif — also comprising PKR, DAP and Pas — over Pas’ insistence on establishing a theocratic Islamic state.
Analyst Ong Kian Ming says the Manik Urai by-election on July 14 will have a galvanising effect on the three component parties.
He does not believe that Pakatan will fall apart, even if there are problems at local or state level, because its national structure is solidifying.
Professor James Chin of Monash University Malaysia says disagreements are part of the process of getting along.
“They have to learn to live with each other and will get stronger as they learn to cope with one another.
“This sort of conflict is good for Pakatan as it is forced to confront issues,” Chin says, adding that “Anwar is still the glue that holds the component parties together”.
Like Ong, Chin says the crisis in Kedah is a local issue with no impact on the national Pakatan Rakyat.
Also downplaying Kedah DAP’s withdrawal is Pas secretary-general Datuk Mustaffa Ali, who characterises the issue as “small”, and says he has faith in Azizan to resolve it.
Vice-president Salahuddin Ayub is confident that the “misunderstandings” between DAP and the Kedah government will be sorted out soon.
Despite the words of comfort, this is not a good time for Pakatan.
The fissures are exposing the alliance to its many critics as a marriage of convenience with each party wanting to impose its will on the others wherever it has a majority.
Continuing distrust and doubts within Pakatan have left even its most ardent supporters wondering whether the component parties can ever be reconciled.
But none of it is new.
In its weakest moments, Pakatan shows itself as a motley crew with nothing in common except a desire to make life difficult for the Barisan Nasional.
Dissimilar in aims and ideologies, the liberal PKR, Islamist Pas and socialist DAP are only united against the common enemy in BN.
Pakatan was hastily assembled after the 2008 general election, following the three parties’ unexpected gains, to impress upon the country that there was finally a united opposition front to govern the five states that had come under its control.
The parties had done better than their wildest dreams, yet Pakatan’s survival as a governing entity remains at the mercy of internal schisms and Anwar’s healing touch.
Pakatan is losing momentum. Ong says Datuk Seri Najib Razak has regained some lost support among the non-Malays since he took over as prime minister from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in early April.
“If he can keep it up, he will win back more non-Malay votes and hold on to the majority of the Malay votes,” Ong says.
Clashes in the opposition alliance cast a deep shadow on its ability to realise its vision of a united nation, free of communal politics.