Fighting fire of its own making

Fighting fire of its own making
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves the UMNO office in Pekan to walk over to the nomination centre to file his papers. He was accompanied by his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor (4th from left), party members and supporters.

KUALA LUMPUR - Its failure to win last year's hard-fought general election clearly still galls the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

The three-party coalition is convinced victory was stolen from its grasp because of an electoral system that favours the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

PR won 50.87 per cent of the vote nationwide. In Parliament, its presence grew from 82 seats to 89 seats. At state level, it retained control of Penang, Kelantan and Selangor.

"Our party won the popular vote. We should be the governing party," Mr Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), told reporters last week after a meeting with a United States presidential adviser.

If that lament resonated with voters after the May 5, 2013 polls, it no longer works on them today.

Public sympathy has been sorely tested in recent months as the PR was forced to firefight problems of its own making.

Take the recent tiff over hudud, the Islamic penal code which prescribes punishments such as amputation of limbs for theft. The issue has come up yet again, as one of the many iterations of the longstanding tension between PR components Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), with its Islamic state agenda, and the DAP, which opposes it.

It has been an issue since the DAP, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) made an election pact in 2008. Though the PR stuck together well enough to romp home to its best-ever electoral result last year, the ideological differences never went away.

This time, the clash is over the PAS plan to implement hudud in the north-eastern state of Kelantan which it has governed since 1990. Its persistence has stirred up a hornet's nest within PR, with DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang calling it the "biggest crisis" since 2008.

This has less to do with any potential break-up of the PR, which has, after all, weathered similar storms, and more to do with a palpable sense of betrayal among some of its supporters.

"PAS has proven to be not as moderate as the PR represented them to be," said Mr Azhar Harun, a lawyer who writes on socio-political issues for news websites.

The PR's top leadership is struggling to resolve it. Last week, PR leader Anwar Ibrahim asked for more time for the parties to discuss the matter in a "healthy discourse". But it is not clear if he will be able to find a compromise.

The episode shows, yet again, how reliant the PR is on Datuk Seri Anwar to act as mediator and be the glue holding the coalition together.

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