Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Pic: AP.

In the background, the United Malays National Organization seeks to capitalize, reports Asia Sentinel

The Malaysian opposition coalition headed by Anwar Ibrahim is in serious danger of tearing itself apart over the issue of who will lead the coalition as chief minister of Selangor, the country’s most prosperous and populous state.

After months of squabbling, Anwar on Aug. 9 finally sacked Abdul Khalid Ibrahim as chief minister, who refused to go. Khalid responded on Aug. 12 by firing all of Anwar’s allies from Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Democratic Action Party on the state’e executive council, leaving Selangor in the hands of his own allies from the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia. That was in apparent reply to an ultimatum by the DAP that PAS, the second wing of Anwar’s coalition, state immediately whether or not it would back Anwar’s decision to make his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, the chief minister.  The DAP and Parti Keadilan called an emergency meeting to try to decide what to do.

There is conjecture that Khalid also has the quiet backing of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the biggest ethnic party in the national ruling coalition. UMNO is wooing PAS to try to use the crisis to wrest the state back from the opposition although it only has 12 seats in the 56-seat assembly. Selangor is the jewel in the Pakatan Rakyat crown. Deputy UMNO President Muhyiddin Yassin has already issued a public statement that the state’s 12 UMNO lawmakers would back Khalid, raising the pressure on both Anwar to get PAS in line, and on PAS to decide which side of the fence it intends to be on.

“UMNO has played this brilliantly,” said a longtime political observer. ”The question is whether they have shown their hands too early.”

If UMNO could pull the 12 PAS members of the Selangor assembly away from the opposition coalition, that would give them at least 24 votes in the 56-person assembly with the remaining votes in the hands of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan and the DAP, suddenly opening the door to horse trading. There is precedent. In 2008, in a stunning defeat for the Barisan, the opposition took the state of Perak. In 2009, however, newly minted Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak persuaded three opposition members to jump ship amid accusations that millions of ringgit had changed hands, with the three becoming independents. Ultimately, the Barisan took the state back from the opposition and kept it in the 2013 election.

The widespread feeling among political analysts in Kuala Lumpur is that the whole fiasco mainly demonstrates Anwar’s inability to discipline his own party and his coalition. Internal divisions within the party have nearly destroyed it, with prominent figures like former Justice Minister Zaid Ibrahim joining the party and then leaving in anger. In other opposition-held states, the dominant political party has had the right to name the chief minister. Only in Selangor has that custom not held and it is laid at Anwar’s doorstep.

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