Growing pains still plague PR coalition

(The Straits Times) – A year after a new opposition coalition was born after its three members won control of five states, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) still has growing pains.

The PR romped to victory on a platform of change. It pledged to replace pro-Malay economic policies with a new economic agenda and to re-introduce elections for local councillors, which the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) ended way back in 1964.

Yet it has so far not delivered on such campaign promises.

Furthermore, PR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has neglected to build a more solid partnership with more formal ties in order to tackle the prickly problems that could tear the coalition apart.

Nevertheless, observers are confident that the PR will get its chance to govern the nation as long as members focus on their common goal of overthrowing the ruling BN coalition.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said: “The important thing is to come up with quality policies that show good governance. That's what we want and not which coalition is falling apart.

“The best way is to change the political culture in Malaysia, and the people need to have a better understanding of the democratic system.”

In this, of course, cooperation between the PR's three partners —PAS, DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) — is crucial.

While the PAS and DAP have shown that they are mature political parties, the PKR still seems to be in teething mode at times.

“The PKR is a mass movement and that is why it has many members who came from different backgrounds,” said an observer who asked not to be named. “Unlike PAS and DAP, the party has not gone through a period of consolidation.”

PKR lawmaker Zulkifli Noordin, for example, has been a thorn in the coalition's side, persisting in taking a hardline Islamic stance on most issues. He openly called for his colleague, Elizabeth Wong, to resign over her nude photos.

The PKR's method of dealing with the problem, however, has been to not deal with it at all. It simply ignored the controversy.

Likewise, the PR itself swept the matter under the carpet. Such incidents make for major headlines in the media, while more important matters — such as the opposition's actual performance — have taken a back seat.

The latest fireworks have erupted over the PKR's Penanti seat in Penang.

Rapped for his poor performance and allegations of graft, its lawmaker, Fairus Khairuddin, resigned. With a by-election there just weeks away — on May31 — the PAS division in Penanti now wants to contest the PKR's seat.

That has fuelled more juicy stories about the opposition's seemingly constant infighting.

Political analyst Dr Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia feels that the Penanti story has been blown out of proportion by the media.

The bigger gap between the parties involves religion, he says.

“The real issue for the parties today is religious conversion, especially from Hinduism to Islam,” Agus told The Straits Times. “That is something that PAS and DAP must agree on.”

Despite their differences, the PR partners share a common goal — the takeover of the federal government.

In this, the PR has strong support from an electorate that is fed up with the Barisan Nasional and unwilling to give the ruling coalition another chance.

Indeed, the DAP's national publicity secretary, Tony Pua, firmly believes the coalition has actually got stronger by working together in the five by-elections.

“The PR is showing maturity in politics, where no party is subservient to another,” he said. “We basically agree to disagree.”