KUALA LUMPUR, April 11— Mates in jail and now in politics, Malaysia’s opposition leaders appear to be counting on their friendship forged behind bars years ago to carry them through the rough electoral ride ahead to take federal power, Bloomberg reported today.
Naysayers have been casting doubt that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance that formed five years ago is solid enough to bust the 13-party Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that have controlled Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy for the past five decades, noting its three parties have joined up in elections only to disintegrate after polls due to fundamental differences in their ideologies.
“You cannot win power alone—you can only win it together,” Lim Guan Eng, the secular DAP’s secretary-general, was quoted saying.
“Either you win in concert or you lose separately in disarray. The choice is very clear.”
The DAP is in partnership with the Islamist PAS and PKR—an Umno splinter party held together by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim—to take on the BN in the May 5 polls.
Lim had been among the 100-over dissidents detained by the BN federal government under the draconian Internal Security Act in 1987 in a massive operation codenamed Ops Lallang where he was was forced to share close quarters with Muslim politicians fighting for an Islamic state that precribes a severe criminal law code like stoning and amputation.
The shared experience is now proving helpful to smooth over tensions in PR. The international business news wire reported Lim saying he often calls up Mohamad Sabu, PAS’s deputy president, who was also jailed then.
“When they detained us, they forced us to live together, and we found that we have the same stand on many issues.
“It is a friendship formed in bondage of iron, of pain, of suffering. When you suffer together and you don’t give in, that is an unbreakable bond,” Lim told Bloomberg.
The months of incarceration gave him an insight into PAS’ beliefs and the realisation that the DAP could work with the Islamic party even if they did not see eye to eye on theocracy, Lim was reported saying.
PAS has toned down its fiery stand on enforcing hudud in recent months. Bloomberg cited its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang saying the party only plans to implement Shariah law in states where it is the majority and will make adjustments to punishments considered inhumane.
The shared dream of beating BN has helped unite the opposition, he was reported saying.
“We are more focused this time around compared with previous years.
“We will respect each other,” Hadi told Bloomberg.
DAP’s strategist, Ong Kian Ming, also told the wire PR has proven it can overcome its ideological differences to focus on fiscal policies and be an effective government in two states were all three parties are represented.
“We are not at each other’s throats every day, although there are areas where we disagree.
“At the federal level, if we take power, we’ll find the same spirit in wanting to cooperate,” Ong was quoted saying.
Despite their lofty ambition to take Putrajaya, pundits have observed that the pact has failed to name a shadow Cabinet. Bloomberg noted PAS has stayed coy over backing Anwar as prime minister if their alliance wins the federal elections.
“If they win the election, God knows what kind of a common policy they’ll have, how they’d work out the Cabinet lineup,” Clive Kessler, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who has written on Malaysian politics for half a century told Bloomberg.
“It’s a coalition that is in fact simply a no-competing-against-one-another-on-election day pact. Whether or not that’s a viable government is a huge question.”