Analysts: Opposition in Disarray After Anwar Pulls Out From PM Post

Ray Sherman and Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
170622-MY-opposition-620.jpg Former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin waves as he arrives to submit an application for the new Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in Putrajaya, Aug. 9, 2016.

Malaysia’s opposition parties are bickering over who should become prime minister if their alliance wins in the upcoming polls – even as they face an uphill task of toppling corruption-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government.

Jailed de-facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim sprang a surprise by pulling out as a candidate for the top government post as preparations intensify among political parties for general elections expected later this year.

Analysts said it is crucial for parties in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance to name a single premier candidate instead of squabbling among themselves, ultimately dragging down support for the bloc.

“The choice of PM’s candidate is a pertinent factor as the election approaches and if PH does not have a consensus in the matter, the problem will drag on” until the crucial period when electoral seats are decided among parties, geopolitical analyst professor Azmi Hassan told BenarNews.

“This ... would affect the coalition,” he said, adding that even fence-sitters would shy away from voting for PH parties, “as they would doubt the capability of the coalition’s leaders to lead the country.”

The latest indication that divisions are intensifying over the opposition candidate for the top government post came last Saturday when Anwar, who is leader of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), said in a statement from prison that he would not offer himself as the prime minister designate for the alliance should PH win the polls.

“With regard to the calls to focus full attention on the general election, therefore, I choose not to offer myself as a prime ministerial candidate,” said Anwar, who was convicted and jailed for sodomizing a former aide, a charge he and his supporters said is politically motivated to destroy his career.

“The friction (over who will be prime minister) is exhausting (the opposition), as the final decision lies with the people in the general election,” he said.

The PH bloc consists of PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the National Trust Party (PAN), a splinter from the faith-based Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and the newly formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who has emerged as the loudest critic of Najib.

PAS left the alliance in June 2015 and has since touted itself as acting as a second opposition bloc against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has led the country since independence in 1957.

PKR and DAP want either Anwar or his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as candidate for prime minister.

PPBM, meanwhile, named former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin as the candidate although the party’s founder Mahathir, who had been prime minister for more than two decades, said he would not mind holding the post if the people insisted. PAN has been keeping mum.

Najib had sacked Muhyiddin as his deputy after Najib was linked to a corruption scandal involving a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

Reports have indicated that nearly $700 million from entities linked to the debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund ended up in Najib’s private bank accounts.

Najib has denied wrongdoing or taking money for personal gain over the 1MDB affair.

Rudderless bloc

Another analyst, professor Hanafiah Harun, called the opposition bloc “rudderless” amid the dispute over the candidacy.

“Pakatan Harapan is not stable, especially with the presence of PPBM and PAN which are clearly adding to the existing problems in the opposition.

“The confusion is clearly seen from the fact that the opposition is yet to decide on the candidate for the PM and deputy PM positions,” Hanafiah told BenarNews.

Azmi said Mahathir’s PPBM had not made things easier for the opposition.

“PPBM which relies heavily on Mahathir’s legacy was supposed to give the opposition an added value, but instead has made the situation murkier.

He said preference should be given to PKR and DAP for winning big in the last elections.

The opposition, led by Anwar, made headway in the last general election in May 2013, winning nearly 52 percent of the popular vote. However, it wrested control of only 89 constituencies out of the 222 parliamentary seats contested.

With Anwar out of the running, some argue that the safest bet to fill the premier’s position still lies with Mahathir.

“For prime minister, I believe [Mahathir] is the right candidate,” former law minister Zaid Ibrahim said in a blog post on Monday. “I have already given all my reasons for supporting his appointment in the last six months [much to the dismay of many], so I shall say no more on this matter.”

‘Power crazy’

An official from Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) said the squabble indicates how “power crazy” the opposition is, adding that each party is fighting for its own cause.

The disagreement among opposition parties is also holding up the formal registration of their alliance, the 92-year-old Mahathir said in an interview with a Singapore broadcasting station.

He said he personally does not want to return as prime minister but noted that some people wanted him “for whatever reason.”

“If, in the end, nobody comes forward, nobody agrees to any candidate and they point out to me, it’ll be churlish of me, just because I want to retire and rest and all that, not to respond to them,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

Anwar is expected to be released from prison by the middle of next year but will be banned from politics for at least five years unless he is pardoned by the King.

In January, the Court of Appeal allowed Anwar to pursue a legal challenge to a decision by the Pardons Board dismissing a clemency petition filed by Anwar’s family in March 2015.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.