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Pakatan sans Anwar, Nik Aziz

By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

Pakatan Rakyat suffered tremendous blow within a short span of several days this week. As a start, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to five years on Tuesday, and then former Kelantan MB Datuk Nik Aziz passed away Thursday night.

Anwar's conviction robs Pakatan a leader that could bring all the three component parties together, while the demise of Nik Aziz could expose PAS' Kelantan state administration to unprecedented impact.

The departure of Anwar and Nik Aziz from Pakatan appears to be a good thing for both BN and Umno, although the current situation may not fall within the control of Umno's leadership, and might possibly turn a favorable condition into an unfavorable one.

Following the apparent split between DAP and PAS, Anwar Ibrahim has been working very hard to preserve the bond between the three parties in the opposition pact. Nik Aziz himself stressed after the 2008 general elections that PAS should stay within Pakatan, strongly opposing any plan by the conservatives within his party to attempt to work with Umno to form a coalition government. Unfortunately, in more recent years Nik Aziz agreed to cooperate with Umno in pushing ahead his hudud law agenda in Kelantan.

Will PAS go out of control after Anwar and Nik Aziz, culminating in the eventual collapse of Pakatan Rakyat? Or will the party carry on with the late Nik Aziz's wish to stay within the pact?

Nik Aziz is the most revered spiritual leader of PAS, and in the words of BN, so long as Nik Aziz stood up and spoke, there was no chance for Umno to recapture Kelantan.

PAS lost Terengganu in the 2004 general elections and barely held on to the Kelantan state administration with a 3-seat advantage. The party lost the Pengkalan Pasir seat in a subsequent by-election, meaning the party now only managed a razor thin single seat majority in the state assembly. If not for Nik Aziz, there was no way for PAS to last through 2008.

More than 10,000 people saw Nik Aziz off yesterday, showing that he was indeed deeply respected by his supporters. With no one capable of taking over his position and possessing his political wisdom, it could be an uphill task for the party to retain Kelantan come next GE.

The dramatic changes taking place within Pakatan means the opposition pact is in for more upheavals in the days to come. First of all by-elections will be called for Permatang Pauh and Chempaka. While PKR and PAS should have little problem retaining the seats thanks to the effects from Anwar and Nik Aziz, the key lies with what will happen next.

If Anwar's imprisonment can trigger that same kind of public sentiment during the 2013 general elections, then Pakatan should be able to easily reignite the 1998 Reformasi campaign. Pakatan could bank on public fury to exert enormous pressure on Umno with a little help from the civil society groups and NGOs.

Unfortunately so far we have not seen Pakatan leaders demonstration their leadership in organizing grassroots power. As for Nik Aziz's death, the changes brewing inside PAS add uncertain factors to the future of Pakatan.

As a matter of fact, given the emergence of aggressive racial and religious voices of late, Umno should by right expect the civil society to play a role in expanding the voices of moderation instead of allowing the extremists to lead the country to the brink of disunity.

Even if Pakatan Rakyat were to fall apart, the power would never go back to Umno leaders, as the power has already been hijacked by religious and racist extremists.

We must not forget that Najib is now facing the mounting pressure from Mahathir. Without Anwar to counter Mahathir, Najib could as well be plunged into a dilemma of helplessness, the best instance being the refusal of agriculture minister to retract his boycott statement and apologize.

Umno leaders must have good strategies to harness a more powerful opposition to suppress extremism and defuse the pressure from within.

Of course, Umno can always bank on the fissure within PAS to absorb the more conservative in the party, but this will only strengthen the rightists and will not augur well for Najib's transformation program.

The BN government must strive to create a peaceful and harmonious political environment favorable for economic development. Political confrontation will only batter the public's confidence towards the government while the international community's concern over Anwar's conviction will somewhat affect the country's international image.

The sharp decline in treasury, depreciating ringgit, emboldened extremism, stagnancy in the country's democratic advancement and infiltration of IS influences, etc. will all add up to the political storm that is currently in the making. It remains critical how the government is going to tackle them.

Pakatan Rakyat is not the only one at the crossroads. So is the country as a whole.

 

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