KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21 — As newly appointed Pakatan Harapan (PH) election director, one of the first public statements Datuk Seri Azmin Ali made has been to reaffirm his commitment to convincing PAS not to clash with the coalition during the 14th general election.
His latest remarks have rattled some colleagues within PH parties like DAP and Amanah, as they had believed the issue to have been settled ever since PAS had officially severed ties with PKR back in May.
But the Selangor mentri besar’s refusal to write off PAS despite all the bad blood between the Islamist party and PH shows his efforts to do whatever it takes to avoid multi-cornered fights in parliamentary and seats come GE14 — especially in Selangor, where any clashes between the two will ultimately benefit Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN).
Azmin’s allies within the Selangor government have been quick to defend him, saying that despite hostilities on the national level PAS has proven to be an efficient and reliable partner within the state.
The art of compromise
Yin Shao Loong, strategic communications director from the Selangor Mentri Besar’s Office said that currently any number of political scenarios are possible as the country’s politics are in a period of “tremendous openness and fluidity.”
He said that an outcome that will guarantee a maximum loss for Umno is one where it faces a straight fight against the combined forces of PH and PAS.
“Politics is the art of the possible; it is also the art of compromise. From the state executive to the local council level Keadilan, DAP, PAS and Amanah have formed a coherent and cooperative government machinery in Selangor.
“Selangor is the living example of how differences can be overcome and service to the people and unity against Umno placed foremost,” he told Malay Mail Online.
The Selangor government official stressed that working together with PAS has not put PH or Azmin’s administration at a disadvantage when it comes to policy-making, saying that the state government is proof of how a PH-PAS coalition can work together and achieve progressive policies.
“The immediate need to serve the people and honour their electoral mandate has trumped all other political considerations. Party members may voice grouses but the fact is their party leaders sit side-by-side every week in the Exco meetings and jointly shape state policy. This is all done with the approval of top national leadership,” Yin said.
Azmin’s position is PKR’s stand
Selangor state executive councillor Elizabeth Wong also defended Azmin and the need to keep the lines of communication with PAS open; and that what her boss is saying isn’t a personal view but an approach agreed upon by PKR.
“What Azmin is doing isn’t in his personal capacity but it is the the position of the party to keep all lines of communications open, both formal and informal.
“He has now taken over the role of the peacemaker, doing what Anwar Ibrahim did before back in 2007. Anyone who attacks Azmin just because he has been given this task is either politically naive or has other vested interests,” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
She said that there have been concerns raised by PH parties about retaining state seats outside of the Klang Valley in GE14 should PAS contest against PH and BN. This, according to Wong, is precisely why Azmin does not want to sever ties with PAS.
Wong reminded PH parties and allies of the situation before the 12th general election, and how well opposition parties fared because of how Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim fought to ensure that there were no three-cornered fights.
“Amanah is still in its infancy and its leaders are relatively unknown to the Malay masses. They will take some years to get the necessary support of the Malay-Muslim voters. The next GE is a question of survival for them. it means they must win in some safe seats to get more time to grow.
“PPBM is really the game-changer more so with a popular former Prime Minister leading it and a large membership base. PAS will still hold on to its grassroots which is about 30 per cent of the Malay electorate at this point in time. They remain a force especially in seats outside of urban enclaves and the Klang Valley,” she said.
Wong said that PH and PAS will be at the losing end if there are three-cornered fights in Malay-majority seats in Selangor, whereby the only seats that can be won by PH will be mainly be in urban constituencies which are a minority in the Selangor state assembly.
“All credible and reputable surveys and polls show this outcome, either one-to-one or pack-up-and-go. Historically too, that in in a seat where the Opposition put more than one candidate, BN won.”
Hypocritical to work with PAS in Selangor
But while Azmin and PKR may favour an electoral pact or alliance with PAS especially in Selangor, others in PH do not share the same views.
Selangor DAP chief Tony Pua warned that any state-based coalition arrangement with PAS is untenable with just months to go before GE14, and that Selangor voters will boycott PH for being “hypocrites.”
“The Selangor voters will dump us for our hypocrisy at supporting PAS at state level, but opposing their policies at national level. That will make us the butt of political jokes,” he told Malay Mail Online.
He said that despite Azmin’s position as PH election director and his remarks on working with PAS, nothing of the sort has been discussed with DAP, Amanah or even PPBM.
Pua also said it would be a waste of time to try and work things out with PAS as the Islamist party will never agree to PH’s manifesto or agenda, or even renounce their decision to cut political ties with PKR, DAP and Amanah.
The Petaling Jaya Utara MP said the focus should instead be on trying to win over PAS supporters in the next few months before GE14, and discuss on how Selangor PAS seats in GE13 would be redistributed among PH parties for GE14.
“However, despite PAS possessing some hardcore votes, we believe that the bulk of the voters, including Malay voters are more interested in elected a viable alternative government to BN, that is Harapan, than a lone-ranger like PAS.
“In fact, we believe that the swing in Malay votes which Tun Dr Mahathir and Bersatu will bring — both the fence-sitters as well as the former Umno hardcore supporters will be more than sufficient to overcome the shortfall of PAS hardcore voters,” he said.
Will Azmin’s position as MB be affected?
Others within PH believe that MB Azmin and PKR will ultimately have to follow the collective decision of PH, especially if that means shutting the door permanently on PAS.
“He cannot go against the ruling. Insistence on it will likely affect his MB-ship,” DAP’s Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lau Weng San told Malay Mail Online.
Amanah strategy director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad also said that PAS’s actions and remarks have shown that it can no longer be a “reliable friend”.
“We are aware of his personal effort and we wish him well. If we could arrive at an amicable solution with Pas for an ‘electoral understanding’, it would be good.
“[But] it is best that we should continue to fortify our Pakatan machinery first. As to seats allocation we should discuss within our rank as PH,” he said.
Dzulkefly said that while there can be a “Plan B” in the event PAS wants to have an electoral pact with PH, it is not a scenario which can be relied on too much.
“The relentless effort of the Selangor MB is indeed commendable but there must be a timeline and ground rules.for an electoral pact with PH,” he added.
Selangor PAS leaders have declined to comment on the matter, with the exception of state information chief Hasbullah Ridzwan.
“PAS is open to negotiate and discuss with anyone as long as it does not go against the policies and decision made by the Syura Council and muktamar,” he said.