Malaysia: Ex-PM Mahathir Proposes New Party to Defeat Ruling Coalition

Melati A. Jalil
Kuala Lumpur
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160715-MY-mahathir-620.jpg Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad looks on during a rally in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, March 27, 2016.

A proposal by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to launch a new party could attract people who are unhappy with corruption allegations surrounding the current PM and who question Najib Razak’s leadership of the ruling party, analysts told BenarNews.

The plan announced this week by Mahathir could work because those looking to break from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) may find existing opposition parties unappealing and not easy to connect with, Wong Chin Huat, who heads the political science and social science unit at the Penang Institute, told BenarNews.

“Some people will complain about having another new party [but] with time, they will realize that perhaps only another splinter party can take another chunk out of UMNO’s support base. The last splinter party, the People’s Justice Party (PKR), may have reached its maximum for now,” he said.

Sivamurugan Pandian, a political analyst at Universiti Sains Malaysia, agreed, saying a new party might recruit members who believe in its goals.

“It should also depend on what is the struggle of the political party. If it is beyond something which we have already seen in the existing parties, then people might be interested in looking at what it has to offer,” the professor told BenarNews.

The biggest challenge is to mobilize nationwide support, Sivamurugan said.

Mahathir, who served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and leads the Save Malaysia movement that aims to remove Prime Minister Najib from office, announced Thursday that efforts were under way to form a new party that would contest Malaysia’s 14th general election. While scheduled for 2018, recent local election wins could lure Najib to call an early election for next year, observers have said.

Opposition reacts

Mahathir’s proposal is leading to calls for cooperation from other opposition leaders.

Pakatan Harapan (PH), the existing opposition bloc, consists of PKR – led by jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim – the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the National Trust Party (PAN).  A faith-based party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), split from the bloc in June 2015, insisting that it would act as a second opposition bloc against Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

“An opposition bloc that is united and strong does not have to be in a formal coalition. It can be Pakatan Harapan consisting of more than the current three parties, it could be Pakatan Harapan plus plus,” PH’s secretariat chief, Saifuddin Abdullah, said in a statement issued Friday, according to Malay Mail.

A PKR leader responded positively to the proposal.

“We discussed many things with him and we agreed to move toward cooperation to have a coalition with all the opposition parties in Malaysia,” PKR Vice President Chua Tian Chang told Agence France-Presse.

Mahathir says ‘no’ to leading new party

Speaking to reporters after a three-hour meeting in Putrajaya with several opposition leaders and former UMNO members, Mahathir, 91, on Thursday dismissed calls for him to lead the new party or to be a candidate in the next general election.

“I think there is a need for a new party to be formed, to represent people who are not yet in the group but wish and have the same objective as this group,” he said.

Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Mahathir has campaigned against Najib over allegations of corruption against the prime minister, including reports that nearly U.S. $700 million was funnelled into Najib’s personal bank accounts through entities linked to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Najib has denied any wrongdoing or that he used any of the money for personal gain. In January, Malaysia’s attorney general cleared the prime minister of potential corruption charges, saying the money was a donation from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

Few UMNO members expected to join

Azizuddin Mohd Sani, a professor of politics and international relations at Universiti Utara Malaysia, predicts that only a few UMNO members will join the new party despite Mahathir’s huge influence nationwide.

“The question remains whether this party will receive support from the people,” he told BenarNews. “This really is how this new party can contribute to the people.”

Meanwhile, political analyst Mohamad Redzuan Othman predicted that the new party would not last for long because, in his view, Mahathir’s only aim is to remove Najib from office. If that objective were to be achieved, Mahathir would re-join UMNO, similar to what he did when his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009.

“He needs a new party because his objective is different than DAP’s and PKR’s. Removing Najib is the sole objective,” the analyst told BenarNews.


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