Malaysian Opposition Parties Seek ‘Common Ground’ on PM Candidate

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
200622-MY-Anwar620.jpg Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and other members of the People’s Justice Party leave its headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, June 9, 2020.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Two members of the Malaysian opposition bloc called on its constituent parties Monday to combine their strengths, stop bickering, and find common ground over who should be their nominee for prime minister should it win the country’s next election.

Amid reports that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition could be fracturing because its parties are divided over who should be the opposition’s prime ministerial pick, the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the faith-based Amanah party announced their preference for a power-sharing agreement between Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim.

Under their proposal, the agreement would call for Mahathir to serve as prime minister for six months and promise in writing to hand over the reins to Anwar, the two parties said in a joint statement.

“Based on the current political scenario, the only realistic option of success is to combine the strength of all five parties – PKR (People’s Justice Party), Amanah and DAP in PH as well as Warisan and Mahathir’s Bersatu,” said Mohamad Sabu, president of Amanah, and Lim Guan Eng, secretary general of DAP.

“This political journey has taken 22 years, we can afford to wait another six months to see Anwar installed as the 10th prime minister of Malaysia,” they said, noting that the six-month transition “shall be documented in writing, signed by all party leaders and publicly announced.”

For Pakatan to succeed in its effort to unseat the unelected government of Muhyiddin Yassin, “all parties in PH, Warisan and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s grouping must try to find a common ground to reclaim the electoral mandate granted by the rakyat [the people] in the 2018 general elections,” they added in the statement. Warisan is a regional party based in Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo.

As Mahathir and others have challenged Muhyiddin’s claim to having the necessary support of 112 MPs – one more than half of the parliament’s 222 members – members of the prime minister’s National Alliance (PN) coalition have hinted that there would be snap elections to settle the matter.

Monday’s joint statement came a day after Anwar announced he did not support continuing to be number 2 to Mahathir.

“I cannot accept that because I am not confident that this decision is the best for the country, for the people, for reform, for judiciary (independence), for media (freedom), for anti-corruption, and especially the economy, to end cronyism and the enriching of a select few people,” Anwar said during a Facebook livestream on Sunday.

Anwar, who leads the PKR, discussed the suggested arrangement that he be Mahathir’s deputy for the six months.

“I am facing a difficulty of gargantuan proportion to carry that burden. How long do I need to suffer? Enough,” Anwar said while insisting the comment was made in jest.

On Friday, PKR’s central leadership council issued a statement saying it rejected a proposal to nominate Mahathir as prime minister and stood firm with its plan to nominate Anwar instead.

That same day, Mahathir told local news website Malaysiakini that he would abide by the proposal.

“When the time comes, I will keep my word. You can check my conduct when I was prime minister and even before that. I have never reneged on my promise,” he said.

In the 1990s, Anwar served as Mahathir’s deputy prime minister and was expected to succeed him. Anwar was removed from the office in September 1998. He was sentenced on a corruption conviction the next year and on a sodomy charge in 2000.

Years later, Anwar and Mahathir put aside their differences and joined forces to form the Pakatan coalition in a bid to oust the government of then-Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2018. Under their agreement, Mahathir was to hand over power to Anwar after his first two years in office, but that never happened.

Mahathir, who led the Bersatu party and served as prime minister under the Pakatan government, stepped down earlier this year as the ruling coalition began to crumble.

Muhyiddin, who had served as the deputy leader of Bersatu, formed a new coalition that included the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to take control of the government, and was sworn in by the king as prime minister in early March.

Analysts expect agreement

While Anwar may be seen as being stubborn, it is Mahathir who is bent on blocking Anwar from being prime minister, Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi said.

“Anwar had repeatedly given way to Mahathir, and in fact was jailed for over 10 years for fighting for justice and institutional reform,” Awang Azman told BenarNews.

“Mahathir is seen as weak and without new ideas for Malaysia. He often ridicules the Malay population, labeling them as lazy and this will distance the Malays from supporting PH,” he said.

Another political analyst, James Chin from University of Tasmania, said Pakatan remained a firm coalition and both camps would come to agreement sooner or later.

“This is not a breakup – they will find a solution because they know that if they don’t find a solution to the present crisis, this effectively means that they are handing power over to PN until the next election,” he said.

While Muhyiddin has not spoken about snap elections, PN members including Najib and Zahid Hamidi, who was Najib’s deputy prime minister and serves as UMNO president, posted photos online that said: “We are already preparing for elections. Are you already with us?”

On Sunday, UMNO Vice President Mahdzir Khalid said a snap general election was the best solution to resolve the current political issues.

“This election should be held so that we can have a solid government in term of support of MPs,” he said.

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