With the rising political discontent in its fold, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR, Pakatan Rakyat may find itself in for a rude shock sooner than its leaders may realise
IT was way off target. Barely 4,000 people were at the Kelana Jaya MPPJ stadium for the Pakatan Rakyat "unity rally" on Tuesday night, when it was supposed to have been a "gathering of 100,000" to project a united alliance.
The poor turnout was a stark contrast to the opposition coalition's last mass gathering at the same venue, on the eve of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's much publicised (and botched) Sept 16 "takeover" of the Federal Government last year.
Has the opposition coalition lost its lustre? Or has political fatigue set in because there's just too much politicking and squabbling among Pakatan components? It might seem so.
Certainly, many who voted for opposition candidates in the last general election are now wondering if they made the right decision, what with the inter-party and intra-party bickering over national and state issues and the administration of states under Pakatan rule.
To their dismay, the voters have found that they had chosen candidates of questionable backgrounds and track records, out of anger at the perceived arrogance and abuses of Barisan Nasional.
The March 2008 general election may have changed Malaysia's political landscape with massive defeats of BN candidates, but many Malay-sians have begun to realise that their lives have not improved much under Pakatan rule.
Given the economic slowdown, compounded by their lack of experience, the Pakatan state governments are struggling to meet voters' expectations while maintaining unity within their alliance, a problem that is growing in Penang, Kedah and Selangor.
A communication breakdown between DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) was displayed over the construction of the second Penang bridge: Anwar objected to the bridge being proposed for the south of Penang, claiming that there were less expensive options, but Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said he was fine with the proposal and was unaware of the objection.
Kedah DAP's announcement that it was withdrawing its support for the Pas-led state government is another indication of the deteriorating Pakatan alliance.
Kedah DAP chief Thomas Su said the move was due to the state government's failure to give "equal treatment to all Kedahans" -- the two major sticking points being the demolition of an illegal pig abattoir at Kampung Berjaya and the imposition of a 50 per cent Bumiputera housing quota in the state.
Although Lim said the decision was not final until and unless it is endorsed by the DAP central executive committee, the fact remains that there is little trust between DAP and Pas in Kedah.
There are also issues Pakatan partners are unhappy about in Selangor, such as the sale of liquor.
As Pakatan is still licking its wounds from the damage caused by the now aborted plan by Pas to hold unity talks with arch-rival Umno, the feeble attendance at the rally spoke volumes. The organisers blame the low turnout on short notice, but some opposition leaders did not stop short of calling the event a failure.
Could this be a reminder that Malaysian voters, now more informed on the goings-on in Pakatan Rakyat, are not as politically gullible as they were a year or more ago? The rally was seen as an attempt to shore up support for the opposition ahead of the Manik Urai by-election scheduled for July 14 and Anwar's sodomy trial, which could see him jailed for 20 years.
Some say it was to keep the momentum going on the constitutional impasse in Perak.
"There is no question of the Pakatan Rakyat surviving," Anwar, confident as always, told wire service AFP after the rally. "It will continue to defend the rights of the people and challenge the government, gaining strength from any conviction made against me.
"In fact, I think a conviction against me will enrage a lot of people."
Leaders who took the rostrum strenuously denied there were major cracks in Pakatan following Pas' flirting with Umno. But instead of pacifying and convincing supporters, they went on to bash BN, Umno, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's 1Malaysia.
The crowd was expecting more, such as leaders offering alternative solutions to political challenges and social and economic woes, as expected of a government-in-waiting.
It could have been a ploy to divert attention from Pakatan's shortcomings and buy time to build better understanding and stronger bonds among the component parties.
This could backfire, however, as it would be tantamount to challenging the political maturity of Malaysians.
Pakatan may be a marriage of convenience, but so are all coalitions to greater or lesser degrees. Its birth was encouraged after its three component parties -- Pas, DAP and PKR -- collectively won 82 of the 222 parliamentary seats contested in last year's general election and jointly took control of the state assemblies of Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan.
For the first time in 40 years, the opposition had denied BN a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Some political analysts view the forging of a loose electoral pact among the three parties as a personal triumph for Anwar, whose negotiation skills helped bring the rival groups together on the basis of principles held in common by the three parties, such as freedom, justice and democracy.
But the indications now are that all is not well within Pakatan Rakyat.