Opposition glosses over widening cracks in coalition

(The Straits Times)  – The resignation of an opposition assemblyman, paving the way for a by-election in Penang, has exposed widening cracks within the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (PR). But the leaders yesterday denied that there were problems.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), denied that there were disagreements among the leaders over the resignation of his former deputy Fairus Khairuddin and his replacement.

“I initially gave Anwar a week to make the recommendations, and when he asked for more time, I merely gave him an extension,” he said, referring to opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

He explained that he allowed Anwar to decide on the replacement for the post as it is meant for a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) member. PKR is the biggest party in the opposition alliance.

On Sunday, Lim had said he was unhappy that he was kept in the dark about the resignation.

“The fact is, his resignation (as the lawmaker) was faxed to me only after it had been announced in the media. So as far as I am concerned, I was never informed and knew it only when the press contacted me…As far as the by-election is concerned, the whole operation is planned by Anwar. I don’t know what is happening and neither do the PKR members, so you have to ask Anwar.”

Fairus relinquished his post as a lawmaker for the state constituency of Penanti last Thursday. He was forced to resign last month as a deputy chief minister of Penang over a graft probe.

It is the first time Lim has openly expressed his frustration about Anwar and the troubled PKR since taking office more than a year ago.

Anwar has kept mum about Lim’s public outburst but PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali yesterday told Lim to stop venting his frustration in the open.

“I urge all PR leaders and members to work together to ensure a big victory in the Penanti by-election,” he said, adding that any disagreement within the PR leadership would only benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Penang PKR chief Zahrain Hashim also took Lim to task for hitting out at PKR through the media and said there were proper party channels for leaders to voice their dissatisfaction.

BN’s Gerakan component party, which governed Penang for more than 30 years before losing the state to the opposition in March last year, said the unhappiness among the leaders showed that PR was a coalition of convenience without a common goal.

DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong said Lim’s public outburst was not a major issue and did not reflect cracks in the coalition.

“Anwar knows there is unhappiness and he acknowledges it. We believe the top leaders can resolve it among themselves,” he told The Straits Times.

The upcoming by-election in Penanti, which must be held within 60 days from Fairus’ resignation, will be closely watched.

Prime Minister Najib Razak last Saturday suggested that BN should skip the by-election if all its component parties agree to it.

But former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad rebuffed this proposal a day later, saying that withdrawing from the contest would give the impression that BN is weak.

Dr Syed said yesterday that BN was afraid of losing with a bigger margin.

A loss in Penanti would add to BN’s string of losses. The once untouchable coalition has lost four straight by-elections in Peninsular Malaysia in the past year. Its only victory came from a rural seat in Sarawak.