Malaysian opposition faces split over Anwar Ibrahim's bid to appoint wife chief minister

Anwar Ibrahim's move to appoint his wife, Wan Azizah, chief minister of Selangor state riles Islamic coalition party, which backs incumbent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 12:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 2:12pm

Malaysia's opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim is in danger of falling apart amid a tussle with his political partners over his bid to appoint his wife chief minister of Selangor, the country's richest state.

The three-party People's Coalition, or Pakatan Rakyat, is facing what opposition politicians say is the most "serious threat" to its existence.

Any weakening or break-up of the coalition would make voters lose faith in the opposition, which made its biggest gains ever in last year's general elections, warned political analysts.

We are in a very sorry state … a self-destructive mood … The end is here

"We (Pakatan Rakyat) are in a very sorry state … a self-destructive mood, and I don't see any circuit breaker to stop it. The end is here," Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad from the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), told the South China Morning Post.

"Pakatan is falling apart. It will eventually happen," Dzulkefly added.

London-trained toxicologist Dzulkefly is the executive director of the PAS research centre and a member of the party's central working committee.

PAS, which holds sway over many rural Muslim voters, is a member of the opposition coalition, along with Anwar's moderate People's Justice Party (PKR) and the secularist Democratic Action Party (DAP). The coalition has faced several disagreements since it was formed in 2008, but the latest is seen as the most serious.

"Everyone is trying to play to their own gallery. No one is arresting the fall. And the government is spinning it to their advantage," says Dzulkefly. "We have no one to blame but ourselves for this."

Trouble started when the PKR wanted to replace current Selangor Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim with Anwar's wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, over complaints that the incumbent had mishandled state affairs.

The chief minister is also alleged to have unilaterally run Selangor without consulting the PKR and other leaders in the opposition coalition.

Last week, Wan Azizah was endorsed by the PKR and the opposition coalition as candidate for the post of chief minister. However, Khalid refused to step down and said he would continue to hold the post until his term ended.

"I think Khalid has done a good job. He is also honest and is not involved in cronyism and corruption," said businessman Rizal Ismail, who is a PKR supporter.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and its spiritual adviser, Nik Aziz, have expressed support for Khalid, saying he should remain chief minister. This has riled the PKR, which sees this as unwarranted interference.

PKR lawmaker Zuraida Kamaruddin downplayed the trouble, saying it was common for coalition partners to have "differences of opinion".

"I don't think Pakatan is falling apart. It will never happen," said Zuraida, who also heads the PKR women's wing.

"I don't think PAS will leave Pakatan. This is just a difference of opinion within PAS."

The issue exposes the split within PAS between moderates and conservatives, according to Merdeka Centre, an independent pollster.

"There is a group of hardliners in PAS who feel the party's Islamic credentials are being eroded by being in coalition with PKR and DAP," says Ibrahim Suffian, director of Merdeka Centre.

"The tussle over Khalid showcases this split," said Suffian.

According to Suffian, if the PAS continues to hold out for Khalid, it risks splitting the coalition.

PAS is scheduled to hold a central committee meeting on August 10 to decide its stance on the issue.