So what now, Pakatan?

After the recent tussle over who would be the Opposition’s candidate for Prime Minister, and then seeing their choice lose, how fares the coalition?

PAKATAN Harapan’s leadership seems like an old married couple even though there are three people involved.

The leaders of the original members of Pakatan Harapan – PKR, DAP and Parti Amanah Negara – have been in the Opposition together as a coalition since PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked as deputy prime minister and Umno deputy president in 1998.

For two decades, in various Opposition coalitions like Barisan Alternatif, Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Harapan, Anwar, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu stuck together to bring down the decades-old Barisan Nasional government.

Finally, the trio toppled Barisan in 2018 with the help of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – and their arch rival for almost two decades. Politics makes strange bed- fellows, as they say.

Dr Mahathir and Bersatu are no longer with Pakatan Harapan. Now, Pakatan is back to the original three parties led by Anwar, Lim and Mohamad. And they function like an old married couple would – they tolerate each other’s political indiscretions and stay together for the sake of the children, ie Opposition voters.

This narrative was told to me when I asked Pakatan sources whether the alliance would stick with Anwar as Opposition leader and Prime Minister candidate for the 15th General Election (GE15).

There are leaders in DAP, Amanah and even PKR who are thinking about post-Anwar leadership of Pakatan, especially after the Port Dickson MP failed – many, many times since 1998 – to achieve his dream of becoming PM. For them it’s been a nightmare of so close – “strong, formidable and convincing” support from MPs, quoth Anwar several times – and yet so far.

After the fall of Pakatan in March 2020, leaders in the coalition considered an alternative to Anwar as the PM candidate. They looked at Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal. They argued that the Semporna MP could unlock the resistance of Warisan, Pejuang and other MPs to Anwar’s candidacy as PM.

But in the end, Pakatan leadership picked Anwar over Shafie. The latest was when Shafie, with eight Warisan MPs behind him, conceded to Anwar, with 88 Pakatan MPs, and the Opposition presented Anwar as its choice for PM to compete with Umno’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Ismail Sabri won when 114 MPs supported his bid.

Once again, it was a matter of so close yet so far: The Opposition had perhaps 105 MPs and needed just six more to gain the majority. But Anwar lost again.

Is it time for Pakatan to consider another candidate for PM in GE15?

Perhaps PKR secretary-general Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail? PKR’s Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar? Amanah’s Kuala Selangor MP Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad? Amanah’s Adly Zahari, who was Melaka Chief Minister? Or Shafie?

However, I’m told that because Pakatan is an old married couple, the leadership will stick with Anwar as Opposition leader and PM candidate. DAP and Amanah will not change their minds unless PKR, internally, decides otherwise. On Monday, the Pakatan presidential council decided to continue to strengthen the coalition under Anwar’s leadership as chairman.

But like some long-term marriages, the eyes of Pakatan’s partners are wandering. They are eyeing other political partners.

For example, DAP was flirting with Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin when the party began negotiating a CSA (confidence and supply agreement) with the then Prime Minister. It was reported that DAP’s Lim gave his blessings to a team of top DAP leaders, including Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming, Damansara MP Tony Pua, Seremban MP Anthony Loke and Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong, to negotiate seven cross-party reforms before the then PM announced them on Aug 12.

Another example: some in DAP and Amanah were suspicious that Anwar had a fling with Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to gain support for Anwar’s PM bid.

Pakatan might remain together until GE15. But after the results are announced, there is a possibility that its members might join a coalition that can form the next government, abandoning Pakatan.

At the presidential council meeting on Monday, there was intense discussion about which flag the alliance should use in GE15. DAP and Amanah preferred the Pakatan flag but PKR was dead against it. PKR argued that the flag represented the failed Pakatan government under Dr Mahathir. It preferred the PKR flag, which Pakatan used (mostly in Peninsular Malaysia) in GE14. In the end, each party might use its own flag in the coming general elections.

Pakatan also announced that it would continue to muster the strength of the Opposition bloc by practising the “big tent” concept.

On Thursday, United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko, a Sabah-based party with one MP, Tuaran MP and Upko president Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau) was accepted into Pakatan’s big tent.

Will Warisan join Pakatan? It is unlikely as Anwar and Shafie are still competing to be the Opposition’s PM candidate. This rivalry might continue when there is a vote of confidence in Parliament next month. The pair might think they have a second chance of becoming PM if they can defeat Ismail Sabri. (Anwar has said Pakatan will not “complicate” the upcoming vote but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he changed his mind about that.)

Also, Warisan – which dominated DAP, PKR, Amanah and Upko in Sabah when Shafie was chief minister from 2018 to 2020 – wouldn’t want to be swallowed by the Anwar-led Pakatan.

In April 2021, Shafie announced that it was no longer Pakatan Plus (in GE14, Warisan teamed up with Pakatan in Sabah to take on Barisan), and that it is now Pakatan Minus. In Sabah and nationally, Warisan and PKR are at odds over their respective presidents’ prime ministerial ambitions.

However, Warisan – which is trying to hammer out an alternative Opposition coalition with Pejuang and the yet-to-be-registered Muda –might be isolated politically if it tries to take on Pakatan.

For example, Warisan, arguably, could lose its stronghold in Sabah, the Penampang Parliamentary seat, if it was to take on Pakatan in GE15. Suppose DAP, which holds the Kapayan state seat in Penampang, supports its Pakatan partner in the constituency next to Kota Kinabalu; in that case, Upko could retain the seat it lost to PKR in 2013 and Warisan in 2018.

Pakatan is negotiating seat allocation among its four members and Warisan might be left out if Shafie continues to play hardball with Anwar.

Shafie and those who support the major Opposition bloc must realise that Pakatan will remain loyal to Anwar and choose him as its PM candidate – unless the old married couple coalition separates.

Till death (of Pakatan) do them part.

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