Anwar Ibrahim has been forced into seeking a seat in Selangor’s state assembly in an effort to stem infighting between two other People’s Justice Party (PKR) leaders. The forced move could weaken PKR’s internal unity and image to Malaysia’s voters. At the very least, it is becoming a major distraction at a time when the opposition is trying to present a united front against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Malaysia Opposition

Having been all but forced into the election himself in order to prevent a power struggle between Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (essentially the governor of the state of Selangor), and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali. With tensions rising, critics are questioning whether the opposition is united enough to actually rule the country, should it ever come into power.

Ibrahim challenges Prime Minister Najib to by-election

In a rather theatrical move, Ibrahim challenged Najib to fight for the contested seat. Najib has already flatly rejected calls to face Anwar in the by-election. With his own seat secure and having already won the national election, Najib would have nothing to gain by challenging Anwar for a state-assembly seat. From the beginning, Anwar clearly made the challenge to Najib as a political stunt, but it could heighten tensions between the opposition and the ruling Barisan Nasional Coalition.

Najib also pointed out that this is a PKR issue, with the election being forced by said party over infighting between two of its top leaders. Najib has called the by-election a burden to the people and has suggested that Barisan Nasional might not even field a candidate for the election.

Internal struggles highlight growing rifts in PKR

A major power struggle is now brewing within PKR with PKR deputy president Azmin Ali apparently attempting to seize power over the administration for the state of Selangor. Ali’s ambitions became evident two years ago when he was appointed PKR’s liason chairman, a position formerly held by Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

Since the 2013 election Azmin Ali has reportedly been trying to wrest control of the Mentri Besar position held by Tan Sri Khalid. This would make him the chief elected executive officer in the state. Tensions had been building between the two political leaders and earlier this month Mr. Ali was removed from his position on the board of directors for the Selangor State Development Corporation.

In Malaysia, Anwar being forced to act

Now it appears that Anwar Ibrahim is being forced to take a seat in the national assembly, which will require him to step down from the national parliament. Most believe that once elected, Anwar will eventually take over as the Mentri Besar of the state, which would effectively end the feud.

Anwar insists, however, that he is not being forced to act due to the fued, but is instead looking to strengthen PKR’s government in Selangor. Selangor is Malaysia’s most populous and economically significant state, so the move might make some sense on those grounds, still most believe that it is to resolve the growing internal rifts in PKR.

Ali Azmin has supported the move by Anwar, claiming that he is only a “small man” in the party. Even if Azmin did want to make a power grab, he would seem to stand little chance against Anwar, who is the leader of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition.

Infighting could be major setback for Pakatan Rakyat

The on-going infighting is becoming a national embarrassment for Pakatan Rakyat. Some critics have begun to question if the Opposition coalition will have enough unity to actually govern the country. PKR is supposed to be the “glue” that holds the coalition together, but by the looks of it, the party can’t even hold itself together.

Pakatan Rakyat finds itself in a particularly tricky situation given that the Chinese led Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) come from two ideologically disparate backgrounds, with PKR trying to hold them together. The DAP is supported primarily by the urban Chinese community and tends to adhere to democratic socialist and progressive policies. PAS, on the other hand, is supported by the conservative Muslim community, which consits primarily of rural Malays.

If PKR cannot even hold its own party together, many may begin to wonder how it can hold the fragile Pakatan Rakyat coalition together.