Malaysia Opposition Bloc Collapses After Internal Squabbles

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Malaysia’s disparate opposition alliance has imploded after months of internal bickering, a boon for Prime Minister Najib Razak at a time his popularity has been falling.

The three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition “no longer functions formally,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, president of the People’s Justice Party and wife of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement. Democratic Action Party Secretary General Lim Guan Eng said the alliance “ceases to exist”.

The grouping has struggled with disagreements on the governance of Selangor state and the jailing of Anwar for sodomy. It started to fray earlier this year when its Islamic member party sought to implement shariah criminal law in an opposition-held state, prompting a backlash from the mostly ethnic-Chinese DAP.

The disarray will probably help Najib, who has been under pressure for his handling of the economy and the performance of troubled state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd. He’s faced repeated public calls from former premier Mahathir Mohamad to step down, while the ringgit has been sliding toward its fixed exchange rate of a decade ago.

“The collapse of Pakatan Rakyat is a good thing for him because it removed one source of pressure,” said Chia Shuhui, an analyst for Asia at BMI Research in Singapore. “Especially since the DAP has been very, very vocal in calling for Najib to explain 1MDB. The DAP is somewhat weakened because they no longer have the other two partners behind them.”

Selangor Question

Formed in 2008, the opposition alliance had little in common apart from a goal to unseat the Barisan Nasional coalition that’s been in power since independence in 1957. The parties have issued ambiguous statements about future cooperation, Chia said by phone, and while significantly weakened the bloc could try and regroup in some fashion.

A dysfunctional opposition puts at risk its control of Selangor, Malaysia’s most populous state which accounts for about a quarter of national gross domestic product. Pakatan Rakyat holds 43 of 56 Selangor state seats.

Anwar said the three parties will work together at state and parliamentary levels even as formal ties have been severed. He urged the leaders to focus on the opposition-held states and problems affecting ordinary Malaysians, according to a statement by Sivarasa Rasiah, a People’s Justice Party lawmaker who met Anwar on Thursday.

Najib implemented a goods and services tax in April and has been gradually removing subsidies on items from sugar to petrol to plug a budget gap. Rising living costs and concern ahead of the introduction of the GST contributed to a fall in Najib’s approval rating to 44 percent in January from 48 percent in October, according to a survey conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

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