PAKATAN Harapan in Penang is having trouble deciding how to allocate Malay-majority seats among three of its component parties ahead of the 14th general election.
More than one party is eyeing seats like Balik Pulau, Tasek Gelugor and Kepala Batas, which are parliamentary constituencies currently held by Barisan Nasional.
Seat negotiations have been tense, sources from Bersatu and Amanah in Penang told The Malaysian Insight.
There are 13 federal and 40 state seats in Penang, which is ruled by PH. The opposition took over the state government in the watershed elections of 2008.
BN holds three parliamentary and 10 state seats. The 10 state seats under Umno-BN Penaga, Bertam, Pinang Tunggal, Permatang Berangan, Sungai Dua, Teluk Air Tawar, Sungai Acheh, Bayan Lepas, Pulau Betong and Teluk Bahang.
Bersatu, the newest of the PH parties, is eyeing all the existing Umno seats that PKR and PAS had failed to win in the previous polls.
“PKR wants some of these state seats, too, in addition to what they already have and will defend. It makes the talks difficult.
“The discussions have been tense,” a Bersatu source familiar with the seat talks said.
Bersatu and Amanah – splinter parties of Umno and PAS respectively – are newer parties, whereas PKR has been around since the Reformasi days after former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now Bersatu chairman and PH’s head, sacked Anwar Ibrahim from government in the late 1990s.
In the 2013 polls, PKR contested four parliamentary and 16 state seats. It sent lawmakers to Parliament for Permatang Pauh, Nibong Tebal and Bayan Baru, but lost Balik Pulau.
Both PKR and Bersatu now want Balik Pulau, which BN regained from PKR in 2013 with a slim victory of 1,539 votes.
The three state seats within Balik Pulau – Bayan Lepas, Pulau Betong and Teluk Bahang – were also narrowly won by BN, with vote majorities of between 395 and 801.
Not only is PKR vying to contest the same federal seats as it did before in Penang, but state seats as well. In 2013, the party won 10 state constituencies – Penanti, Seberang Jaya, Machang Bubuk, Bukit Tengah, Bukit Tambun, Sungai Bakap, Kebun Bunga, Batu Maung, Batu Uban and Pantai Jerejak. But it failed to take Bertam, Pinang Tunggal, Teluk Air Tawar, Sungai Acheh, Teluk Bahang and Pulau Betong.
A PKR insider said his party wants to contest the same federal and state seats again, like in the last general election.
Tasek Gelugor and Kepala Batas
Considering the number of seats PKR wants to contest, there will be few left for Bersatu and Amanah, which is led by Penang-born Mohamad Sabu, a former deputy president of PAS.
Amanah has the fewest members among the four PH component parties.
A party source said Amanah had proposed to stand in all seats previously contested by PAS, which caused the break-up of now-defunct opposition bloc Pakatan Rakyat, which had included PKR and DAP.
This would mean Amanah is eyeing the Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor parliamentary seats, as well as six state seats – Penaga, Permatang Berangan, Sungai Dua, Permatang Pasir, Sungai Acheh and Bayan Lepas — all of which PAS contested in 2013 and lost, except for Permatang Pasir.
An Amanah source said his party was sure about going for Tasek Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and Permatang Pasir.
Party president Mohamad – popularly known as Mat Sabu – is from Tasek Gelugor.
But Bersatu is also staking a claim to Tasek Gelugor, as its Penang deputy chairman, Mohd Shariff Omar, was MP there from 1999 to 2008. The ex-Umno man was also a former agriculture and agro-based industries deputy minister.
“We have also been working on gaining voter support in Tasek Gelugor and Kepala Batas,” the Penang Amanah source said.
“But our policy remains that we operate in a consensus. We are still negotiating over seats with our PH partners. We may give way to Bersatu.”
He said the “seat arrangement is rather tense” but was optimistic that a solution would be reached.
“There will be PKR seats that Bersatu will want. But I am sure PH can come up with a solution… a win-win situation for all.
“Amanah, PKR and DAP must have big hearts in accepting the existence of Bersatu. The main goal is to beat BN and reach Putrajaya.”
No contention over DAP seats
A Bersatu source said there was no dispute about Amanah going for Permatang Pasir, a PAS stronghold and the only seat it won.
There is also no dispute over the seven parliamentary seats and 19 state seats held by DAP, as these are largely Chinese seats.
“DAP is going to defend the seats it holds. It is not asking for more,” he said.
DAP holds the Bagan, Batu Kawan, Bukit Mertajam, Tanjong, Bukit Bendera, Bukit Gelugor and Jelutong parliamentary seats.
Its 19 state seats are Sungai Puyu, Bagan Jermal, Bagan Dalam, Berapit, Padang Lalang, Jawi, Prai, Air Puteh, Pulau Tikus, Tanjung Bungah, Padang Kota, Komtar, Pengkalan Kota, Sungai Pinang, Datuk Keramat, Batu Lancang, Seri Delima, Air Itam and Paya Terubong.
The Bersatu man said if Penang PH could not decide on the seats distribution, the decision might be left to the coalition’s central leadership.
“Penang PH had a meeting with Tun (Dr Mahathir) in early December.
“It already said then that if seat arrangements could not be settled, the presidential council would decide,” he said.
However, Penang PH deputy chairman, Marzuki Yahya, who also heads Bersatu in the state, denied that the talks at state-level had been tense.
“Our leaders here are mature. We can settle the federal and state seats in Penang,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Marzuki admitted that there were overlapping claims on several seats, like how both Bersatu and PKR wanted Balik Pulau.
“PKR has the right to demand but we cannot simply say we want the seat without studying the Umno area and what the constituents want. You can’t have your way if the people there don’t want you.
“We need to look at which party has the people’s support in each seat. We are still discussing and waiting for the reports from the ground.
“The state seats are more or less close to be finalised. We should be able to wrap things up this month,” he said.
BN is expected to contests all 13 parliamentary seats and 40 state seats in Penang, as it traditionally does.
PAS, which is now part of a smaller opposition bloc called Gagasan Sejahtera, is said to be looking at more than the two parliamentary seats and six state seats it contested previously. This is expected to create three-cornered fights with BN and PH.
In July last year, Astro Awani reported that Penang PAS was studying its chances of winning 25 state seats in Penang. PAS has also expressed interest in contesting the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat held by PKR.