KUALA LUMPUR – With the general election mere months away, Pakatan Harapan (PH) is scrambling to ensure its long-drawn bid to be formally registered as a coalition is approved.

The pact has accused the Registrar of Societies (RoS) of stalling the process, which the agency denied when highlighting fresh issues with DAP and PPBM: the former owes the RoS the final report on the internal election the agency ordered it to repeat while the latter has not held an annual general meeting as required.

Given that PH’s predecessor, the defunct Pakatan Rakyat, was able to win up to five states in Election 2008 and the popular vote in 2013, why is the Opposition so motivated to have the coalition formalised ahead of the next general election?

What will registration allow PH to do?

Single narrative

For one, it will let the Opposition coalition shape a unified narrative during the general election with which to tap support outside its customary hunting grounds, such as Malay-majority areas outside of the Klang Valley where voters are traditionally Umno supporters.

For PH leaders, it will allow them to deliver a targeted message while potentially letting them sidestep the ideological differences between DAP,  PKR, Amanah and PPBM.

It will also permit the four parties present a common facade to voters, benefitting newer parties such as Amanah and PPBM that still struggle with lack of recognition.

“Provided that this formal registration is approved now or in a very near future, this will enable PH to use one single logo — the PH logo — in GE14.

“This provide a crystal clear alternative: PH vs BN. And this will in many ways boost PH’s chances at the poll,” PH chief secretary Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

Most importantly, the pact hopes to use the umbrella entity to minimise the chances of friendly fire when PAS is already set to spoil the fight between PH and the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), even without considering the free-for-alls common in Sabah and Sarawak.

Multi-cornered contests have customarily worked against Opposition parties, and this was demonstrated in both the Sarawak state polls last year and two by-elections shortly after.

DAP assistant national publicity secretary Zairil Khir Johari told Malay Mail Online he believed a common logo would alleviate such a risk, as the rebelling candidate would not be allowed to use the image.

“Formal registration will give us cohesiveness and most importantly allow us to use a common logo at the election. With a common logo, it is impossible to have three-cornered fights,” he said.

“Once we have a formal coalition and a common logo, all PH parties will contest using common logo only,” he said.

PPBM supreme council member Datuk Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff said that once approved, PH parties should adhere to using the shared identity as it would suggest a lack of unity otherwise.

“Further this can be exploited by Umno/BN to further confuse the voters, as they always do,” he said, insisting that the application must be approved in the interests of fairplay and democracy.

‘Special arrangements’ still possible

Despite the insistence on registering, an official PH pact would not operate in a fundamentally different manner than now.

The pact could still have ad hoc relationships with non-member parties, such as in Selangor where this approach has let PH remain in power with the unofficial support of PAS lawmakers, even when the Islamist party ended all ties with the pact.

According to Saifuddin, each state may even have their own special arrangements for GE14, particularly for Sabah and Sarawak where PPBM is not represented.

In such instances, he said PH would need to work with local parties.

“So, Selangor is also like that,” he explained.

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun believed that successful registration with the RoS would be mainly a symbolic victory as it will formalise the common bond among the four PH parties.

“They can print banners, pamphlets and other campaign materials under same logo and thereby save a bit of explanation to the voters.

“Even without formal registration as a coalition, the PR parties have been performing quite well in last two general elections, so registration per se is really not a big factor in effectuating support for the opposition. They can still campaign using their respective logos,” the principal adviser of Pacific Research Centre, Malaysia told Malay Mail Online.

PH submitted its application to RoS months ago and was told then to alter their logo before the application was accepted. They amended this as directed, but have not received official updates since.

– Malay Mail