After PKR-DAP spat over seats in Johor, more friction in the offing?

(Bernama) – The spat between PKR and DAP, two of the three partners of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR), over allocation of seats in Johor may be just the beginning of intense bickering, according to some political analysts.

They believe that such tiffs will crop up in the states as the leaders at that level are unlikely to look for a compromise until intervention by their top leaders.

“The intense bickering in Johor is due to the fact that the opposition is planning to make more inroads in the state in the next election. What happened in Johor in 2008 was that PKR was not that strong enough to build itself.

“Only after (former MCA minister) Datuk Chua Jui Meng became the state chairman did it (PKR) try to get more seats to contest but the DAP is still very strong, especially in the Johor Baharu area,” said political commentator Datuk Cheah See Kian.

He felt that such spats were not likely to occur only in Johor, but believed that the parties would eventually close ranks.

“They will eventually compromise. For example, in the 2008 general election, DAP wanted 21 seats in Penang after originally demanding 23. They said 21, no more compromise after that. However, after discussions with (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim), DAP agreed to take 19 as Anwar managed to convince DAP to give PKR two more seats as the party would have to depend on Malay support to form a government,” he added.

However, James Chin, a political analyst from Monash University in Petaling Jaya, said the DAP-PKR quarrel was more intense this time around due to the fact that DAP was working toward being a more multi-racial party and this had put it at odds with PKR, which had been contesting in “mixed” constituencies in the previous elections.

He believed that “personal reasons” also played a part in the squabble as many members in the opposition pact, particularly DAP, were said to be not too happy with Chua’s decision to join PKR and his subsequent appointment as Johor PKR chairman.

“When Chua was MCA vice-president, he helped BN to destroy DAP. Many people are not happy and find it difficult to work with him even though he is PKR vice-president at the national level and Johor state chairman, which has given him the mandate to negotiate for seats,” said Chin.

The DAP-PKR friction over seats in Johor somewhat resembled the misunderstanding between the same two parties in the recent Sarawak state election where they initially failed to have a consensus on how many seats to contest.

It was only resolved after the PKR national leadership allowed its state leadership to negotiate directly with the DAP state leadership, but still they could not avoid multi-cornered fights with a local opposition outfit, Sarawak National Party (SNAP).

After the Sarawak state election, DAP and PKR were also feuding over the proposed “shadow state cabinet” posts after DAP Sarawak chairman Wong Ho Leng announced a line-up.

Even for the next general election, PKR is reportedly aiming for 15 parliamentary seats in Sarawak, a matter which may draw a difference in opinion from Sarawak DAP.

Not only that, DAP and PKR may also have the same problems in Sabah and would also have to contend with the opposition-based Sabah Progressive Party or Parti Maju Sabah (SAPP).

SAPP had already declared that it will stand in at least 40 state seats in Sabah. This includes all the eight Chinese-majority areas, where it will basically pit its candidates against those from DAP and PKR.

Even in Penang, a state now controlled by the DAP, DAP veteran Zulkifli Mohd Noor had been reported to be asking his party to reclaim six seats contested by PKR previously. His suggestion has drawn a lot of flak from Penang PKR leaders.

The DAP-PKR feud in Johor took place despite an earlier comment by PKR de facto leader Anwar that the issue of seat allocation among the three PR partners – DAP, PKR and PAS – had been resolved in most states with that in a few in the process of being finalised.

Anwar was reported to have said that a national-level PR meeting decided that component parties in the states should not make any announcements for the time being.

“We find there have been some statements from individuals, but it is not advisable to announce anything yet,” he said at a recent Aidilfitri open house.

“We have done far better this time than in 2008,” he said, explaining that the major parameters in terms of preparations had already been resolved before the next election in contrast to the last-minute agreements in 2008.

A political analyst at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, said although there was a crack in solidarity, the opposition parties would be smart enough to sweep it under the carpet for the time being and resolve the matter later.

He said this raised questions of whether the seats controversy was orchestrated and part of PR’s strategy to divert attention from solving the real issues until their top leadership could come out with a plan to overcome the ongoing problems.

“What has happened to their so-called Common Policy framework (CPF) and shadow cabinet? Until now, they have not implemented them. If the CPF is already there, then the friction would not have been there in the first place,” he said.

But the latest controversy over seats has no doubt created speculation and negative perceptions over PR’s solidarity.

As pointed out by PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution last Wednesday, the misunderstanding was not going to help the coalition. He urged PR members not to wash dirty linen in public.