Malaysian Opposition Bloc Names Anwar as its PM Choice for Next Polls

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-04-09
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Malaysian Opposition Bloc Names Anwar as its PM Choice for Next Polls Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the Malaysian opposition People’s Justice Party, answers questions after a meeting with the chief of the anti-corruption agency at its headquarters in Putrajaya, March 22, 2021.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Malaysia’s opposition on Friday named Anwar Ibrahim as its choice for prime minister ahead of a general election that current leader Muhyiddin Yassin promised to hold as soon as the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

The Pakatan Harapan opposition bloc also said it was ready to work with any parties in the next polls, and would keep pressing Prime Minister Muhyiddin to persuade the king to reconvene parliament. The legislature has been suspended since mid-January when the monarch, at Muhyiddin’s prompting, declared a national emergency over the pandemic.

“The Pakatan Harapan leaders’ retreat on April 8 and 9 has decided that the chairman of Pakatan Harapan, Anwar Ibrahim, will lead the campaign for the 15th General Election and as such, [be] elevated as the candidate for the Prime Minister of Malaysia,” the resolution said.

The retreat in Anwar’s constituency seat of Port Dickson, south of Kuala Lumpur, drew Anwar, Mohamad Sabu, and Lim Guan Eng – the respective leaders of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), the faith-based Amanah party, and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). The three parties comprise Pakatan Harapan.

They were joined in Port Dickson by members of the coalition’s Presidential Council, women’s and youth wing leaders, as well as chief ministers of states controlled by the coalition.

In a nine-point resolution shared with journalists, the coalition said it was open to working with any political group, but with conditions.

“We take an open stance to negotiate and cooperate with any sides, based on the principle and agenda of reform for the interest of the people,” Pakatan said.

The resolution is the coalition’s first announcement since Anwar’s public declaration last month that Pakatan was in talks with several leading politicians from the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the history of Malaysian politics.

UMNO now is a member of the ruling coalition, but party leaders have announced that it would split from the Perikatan Nasional alliance headed by Muhyiddin in the next national election.

“At this stage, we are just discussing. So, I think we will stick to that – that we are just in the midst of initial discussions,” Anwar, 73, said on March 16 about the talks with UMNO.

Amanah’s communications director, Khalid Samad, said that Pakatan could work with other parties, but he expected that members of UMNO, which draws its support from the country’s ethnic Malay majority, likely would not work with DAP, a largely ethnic Chinese party.

“The condition (of cooperation) is the acceptance of the principles of the reform agenda, can UMNO accept the condition after publicly declaring ‘No DAP, no Anwar’ in their General Assembly? So obviously UMNO has rejected us,” he told BenarNews.

Khalid was referring to the declaration made by UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at his party’s general assembly on March 27, where he said it would not work alongside Perikatan Nasional, Anwar’s party and DAP for the 15th general election.

UMNO, the anchor party of the Barisan Nasional coalition, had held power from the nation’s birth until Anwar joined forces with his former nemesis, Mahathir Mohammad, to form a coalition that pulled off an electoral upset in May 2018.

Before that election, the two politicians formed a pact in which Mahathir promised to hand over power to Anwar in two years. But Anwar never succeeded him as prime minister. Mahathir’s government collapsed in February 2020 over infighting about the question of who would be the next PM in the Pakatan government.

When Mahathir stepped down, it opened the door for Muhyiddin to join forces with UMNO and take the helm of government as an unelected prime minister.

Later in 2020, Mahathir split from Bersatu, the party in the Pakatan coalition that he had co-founded with Muhyiddin, and formed his own party, Pejuang.

Options open

Political analyst Tunku Mohar Tunku Mokhtar of the International Islamic University of Malaysia said the resolution was cautiously worded so that the coalition could keep its options open.

“It does not exclude working with UMNO. This means if the party agrees to adhere to PH’s agenda of reform and accepts Anwar as the prime minister candidate, PH will accept working together with UMNO,” Mokhtar told BenarNews.

Oh Ei Sun, from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said it would be difficult for UMNO to work with Anwar’s coalition because of UMNO’s old adversarial relationship with DAP.

“It is not so much because their leadership really cannot work with DAP, but their grassroots have long been brainwashed by them into demonizing DAP,” Oh told BenarNews. “So if they now work with the DAP, they risk alienating their own grassroots.”

Muhyiddin, who has been under pressure from UMNO as well as opposition parties to call an election, has said he would personally advise the king when the situation permits and the pandemic is under control. He said his priority was to bring Malaysia’s economy back to health by restoring the livelihoods of people affected by COVID-19.

King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Billah Shah declared a national state of emergency on Jan. 12 to allow the government to deal with the pandemic. The emergency is to end on Aug. 31.

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