Anwar still a political force despite troubles

Anwar still a political force despite troubles

Malaysia's opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance have been through hell in the past few weeks.

The conservative faction of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) came close to breaking away from its two alliance partners, while the Sultan of Selangor snubbed Datuk Seri Anwar's choice of his wife as the state's new chief minister.

Meanwhile, playing in the background is the worry that Mr Anwar might go to jail again if he fails next month in his final appeal against a sodomy conviction.

So is the game over for Mr Anwar, the oft-cited "glue" that holds the PR together?

Not quite.

Although Mr Anwar, 66, and the PR have clearly been hurt by the squabbling, they could still hobble along as it were, aided by the fact that the next general election is not due until 2018 and that there is still popular support for having a viable opposition.

The tripartite PR garnered 51 per cent of the total votes at the general election held in May last year, compared with 47 per cent for the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

This will help limit the decline in support for Mr Anwar and the PR caused by the infighting.

Now that Mr Azmin Ali, deputy president of Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), has been appointed as Selangor's Menteri Besar, temperatures in the alliance should finally start to come down.

The turmoil seen in the past few weeks has created "no lasting damage for Pakatan because Malaysians have short memories and the general election is far away", Professor James Chin, political analyst at Monash University Malaysia, told The Straits Times.

"Pakatan as a coalition is still viable because its top leadership know that if they don't hang together, they will lose to Barisan Nasional," he added.

Even so, the open conflict in PR has led to questions about whether Mr Anwar can still read the opposition's pulse accurately.

In particular, his decision to try to replace the previous Selangor chief, Datuk Seri Khalid Ibrahim, with his wife, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was considered a poor move by many.

It triggered a blatant revolt by key members of PAS, who were already unhappy with the pro-Anwar liberal factions of the alliance.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang openly denounced the nomination of Dr Wan Azizah, saying he did not want to see an "Anwar dynasty" in the making. PAS was already fuming that it had not even been consulted when Mr Anwar decided to replace Mr Khalid.

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