Defections and other problems probably mean the opposition will lose its ability to block legislation requiring a two-thirds vote
It is beginning to appear that the two-year experiment with a viable opposition in Malaysia is just about over. Malaysian Insider, a Kuala Lumpur-based online news site, reported that as many as 10 members of Pakatan Rakyat, the unwieldy coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, could be about to defect.
Even if they don't, the opposition is flailing. Anwar's own trial for consensual sex with a former male aide continues and, given Malaysia's malleable court system, is expected to result in his conviction although appeals could take as long as two years before he is sent to prison. In the latest development, High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah said he could decide by himself whether he was sufficiently neutral to continue to hear the sodomy case. He dismissed Anwar's appeal against his hearing on the matter Wednesday afternoon.
The question is where the opposition goes from here. Anwar has been unable to groom any successors, partly because the disparate nature of the three parties in the opposition makes it difficult for anybody to bridge the ideological gap. If he is jailed, it is questionable how long his martyrdom might last. When he was arrested on similar charges in 1998 – which were beyond a doubt trumped up to get rid of him – he led massive rallies in Kuala Lumpur against the government. But once he was imprisoned, the protests ultimately died away.
The major effect of the two-year opposition run appears to be a historic realignment of political parties, with Parti Islam se-Malaysia, with its roots in the rural, poor, fundamentalist northeast of the country. PAS has moved to consolidate its growing power in urban areas, particularly the area surrounding Kuala Lumpur as ethnic Malays are turned off by the continuing money politics and corruption in the United Malays National Organisation. And, say political observers in Kuala Lumpur, ethnic Chinese and Indians are turning to the party as well because of the corruption in their own coalition components.
In addition, too many of the opposition members were simply not prepared to hold office or to govern once they got there, analysts say. Some were disgruntled UMNO members who crossed to the opposition before the March 2008 elections on the opportunistic belief that Anwar, a charismatic leader, could actually gain control of the parliament. Now, the insiders say, since Anwar failed in his attempt to lure enough UMNO members to defect to the opposition, and with Anwar in the middle of a debilitating trial he seems sure to lose, they are looking for ways to cross back.
Problems within the Pakatan coalition, said a senior aide to Anwar, "have been simmering and with the case now in full force, it makes sense for the dissidents to add pressure on all fronts to create as much disunity and instability as possible.”
Whether 10 MPs will defect is uncertain. "I think it's possible,"said the aide. "But I'm sure there is a lot of horse trading going on."
Anwar returned to Penang on Feb. 16 to seek to shore up the coalition, the aide said. Anwar acknowledged in interviews with the local press that he had picked some of the wrong candidates in the 2008 elections.
"I selected the candidates for the parliamentary seats. PKR was new then. We had to field them,"he told reporters.
There has been a steady leakage from the coalition, made up of Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat of urban Malays, the largely Chinese Democratic Action Party, and PAS for months. Last week, Zahrain Mohd Hashim, an MP from Penang state, quit with a blast at Lim Guan Eng, the DAP head of the Penang state government. Malaysia Insider reported that others are to hold a press conference this week to announce their departure from the opposition. Read more.
Read also:Malaysia's Brain Drain
It's Not Just Politics and Racial Discrimination.
Malaysia's brain drain appears to be picking up speed. According to a recent parliamentary report, 140,000 left the country, probably for good, in 2007. Between March 2008 and August 2009, that figure more than doubled to 305,000 as talented people pulled up stakes, apparently disillusioned by rising crime, a tainted judiciary, human rights abuses, an outmoded education system and other concerns. Read here.