AS the thunderhead boiled up on the horizon, it suddenly vanished. The DAP has dropped the idea of a snap poll in Penang.
Party secretary general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced on Sunday that DAP has scuttled the idea because it could not obtain a consensus within opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (Harapan) in support of the move.
PKR with DAP and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) had formed the coalition last September as replacement for defunct predecessor Pakatan Rakyat (Pakatan).
Pakatan had expired in June last year when its Islamist component, PAS, decided to cut ties to the avowedly secular DAP on account of the latter’s unyielding opposition to the implementation of hudud in PAS-controlled Kelantan.
The speed with which Harapan was cobbled together, within a few months of Pakatan’s demise and within days virtually of the formation of Amanah, which split from PAS, was testimony to the broad affinity amongst its components.
PAS had been an uneasy ally within Pakatan since the inception of the informal coalition in 2008 because of its theocratic goal of making Malaysia an Islamic state.
When it cut ties with DAP in June last year, the move served to confirm that a theocratic party cannot for long coexist with a secular one.
The death of PR was something that was inevitable.
The speed with which its replacement, Harapan, got off the ground testified in some measure to the relief felt by DAP, PKR and Amanah that they were rid of a bone in their collective throats now that PAS was off on its own.
Harapan was coming along nicely until DAP moved last month to counter the charging of Guan Eng with two counts of corruption by moving to hold a snap poll in Penang, a move PKR felt it could not support.
As justification for the move to hold snap polls, DAP argued that the party needed a new mandate from voters in Penang in the wake of the corruption charges against Guan Eng.
The party described the charges as trumped up and politically motivated.
It felt that a renewed mandate from Penang voters would serve notice to federal powers that be that the state’s citizenry took a dim view of its treatment of its head honcho and the administration he has led.
PKR, fearing it would lose state wards it won by slender margins in the general election of May 2013 (GE13), expressed doubts about the wisdom of calling for such a poll.
Their fears were based on the certainty that PAS would field candidates in the marginal seats that PKR had won, thus splitting the Malay vote which would likely result in Umno regaining them.
Although PAS continues to be a member of the PKR-led state government in Selangor, where DAP is also a governing partner, PKR doubted that it could dissuade PAS from fielding their candidates in PKR-held seats in Penang.
PKR argued that a snap poll would eventuate in a lose-lose situation for them, while DAP would not be able to extrapolate from the probable results a win-win position for itself.
Presently, DAP has 19 seats in the 40-member state assembly; PKR and Umno have 10 each and PAS has one seat.
Retaining all 19 seats — coalition seat-sharing arrangements tend to maintain the status quo among partners —would not necessarily mean that Guan Eng would be able to gain a ringing endorsement of his integrity and rule from the electorate in a snap poll.
Coupled with the probability that voter turnout would not be as high as in a general election — turnouts for snap polls are invariably lower — the thumping endorsement anticipated by DAP could well be a mirage.
Furthermore, probable seats losses to PKR would cloud the overall Harapan outlook and lead to recriminations within a fledgling coalition.
PKR maintained that there were more negatives than positives to the snap poll proposition and called for discussions within Harapan before a final decision was made.
However, ominously for Harapan, DAP appeared increasingly determined to go ahead although Guan Eng emphasised that his party upheld the principle of consensus on coalition decisions in the face of disagreements among partners.
DAP’s position was bolstered when Amanah signaled support for the move to hold a snap poll.
The party had held two meetings among its leaders on the issue and though their deliberations suggested that Amanah were ambivalent about the proposition, it somehow translated into tepid endorsement for the DAP move.
Amanah leaders let PKR know they would abide by what a Harapan presidential council meeting would finally decide on the issue while allowing Guan Eng to publicly announce that DAP had Amanah’s vote on the matter.
This sequence of events painted PKR into a corner from which it may well have sought to emerge by requesting that DAP give it two of its seats to contest in the snap polls as cover for expected PKR losses in marginally won wards during GE13.
We know this from Guan Eng’s disclosure, in the course of Sunday’s announcement, that DAP was dropping the snap polls idea, that PKR had indeed requested two DAP seats as cover for anticipated losses.
Guan Eng said DAP were not prepared to accede to the PKR request and, following its coalition partner’s continued demurral on snap polls, had decided to drop the whole idea.
PKR wasted no time in hailing the DAP move and Guan Eng’s ability to prioritise larger Harapan interests over his own party’s goals.
Amanah was also swift in saluting the move. Its relief that intra-coalition discord was averted was apparent in the way it crafted its praise.
Thus, the storm clouds that loomed on the Harapan horizon dissipated as suddenly as it had gathered.
Harapan has averted a potentially coalition-splitting crisis while Guan Eng has shored up his stature.
Since coalition politics is the only politics for multi-farious Malaysia, this is a toasting moment for Harapan and a beset leader.