Malaysia’s opposition alliance puts house in order

By EILEEN NG, Associated Press

Malaysia’s three key opposition parties moved to formalize their coalition despite ideological differences by officially registering their alliance, senior officials said Wednesday.

The move comes as the three-party People’s Alliance seeks to bolster unity and to counter populist measures instituted by Prime Minister Najib Razak to revive support for his ruling coalition since taking power in April.

The People’s Alliance was first formed as a loose coalition among the multiracial People’s Justice Party, the leftist and Chinese-based Democratic Action Party, and the religion-based Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party to compete in general elections last year.

It proved to be a winning formula when it captured more than one-third of parliamentary seats and gained control of several key states, handing the worst-ever electoral results to the National Front coalition, which had governed the country since 1957.

Tian Chua, a senior member of the People’s Justice Party, said the People’s Alliance submitted an application Tuesday to the Registrar of Society to become a formal coalition.

“This is a big step forward. It will make us more organized and structured” ahead of the next general elections in 2013, he told The Associated Press. Once approved, the alliance will call for a special meeting to elect its office bearers, he said.

It was not clear how long it will take to get the registrar’s approval.

Another party official, who declined to be named, said the People’s Alliance proposed the emblem of a rising sun, signaling a new dawn for the country as it seeks to unseat Najib’s National Front coalition.

The move will be a moral booster for the opposition alliance beset by ideological spats, especially between the Democratic Action Party and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who heads the alliance, was instrumental in bringing the three disparate parties together. But the alliance began to strain when some top members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party began talking about uniting with the United Malays National Organization, the main component of the National Front.

The move threatened to split the opposition, but the Islamic party agreed last week to shut the door to any attempt for such talks.

Still, the People’s Alliance faces a tough task in countering Najib who has taken steps to reach out to ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities that have long complained of racial discrimination and corruption.

Najib has liberalized selected aspects of the services sector to tackle the economic slowdown. Last month, he also instituted radical reforms on the way leaders are elected in his ruling Malay party to make it more democratic.