Malaysians divided on opposition's choice of ex-PM as candidate

Malaysians divided on opposition's choice of ex-PM as candidate

by Trinna Leong

KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ANN) - Malaysia's Reformasi movement was started in 1998 to fight the government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, after he sacked his deputy Anwar Ibrahim.

Nearly 20 years later, the story of mentor and protege could soon be repeated - but with several twists. Dr Mahathir would lead the country again should the opposition take power in the upcoming polls.

And having made up with the former deputy prime minister, Dr Mahathir will pick his ex-protege as the next prime minister after Anwar, 70, is released from jail and pardoned by the Malaysian King.

But not so fast.

Malaysians are deeply divided by the opposition's choice to pick Dr Mahathir, 92, as its candidate for prime minister.

Some are willing to forgive the once-authoritarian leader, but others would prefer the four-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact to embrace change by naming a younger candidate in its fight against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

"It's not just about going against BN, we need someone who is visionary, innovative; one that has a plan to improve our policies," said Ms Katrina Khairuddin, 30, a recruitment manager.

Surprisingly, the Selangor chapter of Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is also against Dr Mahathir's nomination.

"Millennials wish to see a fresh figure, rich with far-sightedness, and who'll effectively rectify the damage done by the leadership of Umno and BN," Selangor PKR information chief Hizwan Ahmad said in a statement yesterday (Jan 8). "People will not forget, nor will the original reformists. Reform must involve all aspects."

The 22-year Mahathir era between 1981 and 2003 saw great development and economic growth. But the then Prime Minister also restrained freedom of expression and oversaw a rise in cronyism.

The pact's candidate for deputy prime minister is PKR president and Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, 65.

PH consists of PKR, Dr Mahathir's year-old Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party and moderate Islamists, Parti Amanah Negara.

Some netizens commented on social media that they could close one eye and vote for the PM-DPM pair so long as BN and Prime Minister Najib Razak is removed.

Wrote one Santhia Murugaya on Dr Mahathir's Facebook: "He is trying to clear the mess that he has done. So let's, together with him, make it happen".

Undeniably, Dr Mahathir still draws crowds at public speeches, especially those held in rural Malay heartlands where two generations have lived under his leadership.

"Teaming up with Tun Mahathir, it will be quite a gig to watch. The dream team of the 1990s, master and once protege," said Mr Amir Fareed Rahim, political analyst at KRA Group, referring to Anwar's expected release on June 8.

But political fatigue among Malaysians runs deep, with some questioning if the political parties are unwilling to embrace change by picking younger candidates.

"Tun should've used this opportunity to show that there's a different path to be taken. He should've taken the back seat, and groom someone younger to lead," lawyer Al-Hadi Harun told The Straits Times.

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