KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — The prominence and reception Pakatan Harapan has given to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has laid bare the shortcomings of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Although a rival and former nemesis of many in the pact, Dr Mahathir has swiftly assumed a leading role in the “Save Malaysia” movement to remove Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, which counts among its supporters leaders of PKR, DAP and Amanah.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, agreed the reverence accorded to Dr Mahathir by Pakatan Harapan could be construed as him playing the role of de facto opposition leader.
“Yes, indeed he is, albeit a slightly reluctant one, because he still doesn’t see eye to eye with the other opposition components on a lot of issues, chief of which are the toppling of Umno as opposed to merely attempting to force Najib down, and also the plight of Anwar,” he told Malay Mail Online, referring to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Dr Wan Azizah, Anwar’s wife, took over as opposition leader when the PKR de facto leader was imprisoned last year after the Federal Court upheld his sodomy conviction. But while she has assumed the post, Dr Wan Azizah has been far less visible and effective in the role.
Comparatively, Dr Mahathir was able to rouse immediate support from all three parties for his Citizens’ Declaration with ease.
Agreeing that Dr Wan Azizah risked being viewed as a placeholder in the federal opposition leader role, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Assoc Prof Dr Faisal Hazis warned that she and the other opposition leaders must step up or be overshadowed by Dr Mahathir if “Save Malaysia” gains traction.
He added that if Dr Wan Azizah was unable to unite the opposition, then PKR’s deputy president Datuk Seri Mohammad Azmin Ali could be an interim candidate.
“They need to put aside petty politics and look at the bigger picture, which is federal power,” he said.
Oh pointed out that Dr Wan Azizah has very clearly been a “placeholder” for Anwar before, both in Permatang Pauh seat and at the head of the opposition.
Dr Wan Azizah won the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat last year after Anwar was disqualified due to his conviction.
This was the second time Dr Wan Azizah has stepped in to retain the Permatang Pauh seat for Anwar, the first being back in 1999 when the latter was imprisoned for sodomy. She later relinquished the seat to Anwar in 2008.
Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee, however, disagreed that Pakatan Harapan’s eagerness to support Dr Mahathir meant it was conferring the role of de facto leader upon him.
He pointed out that the former prime minister did not hold any position in the opposition and that the co-operation only encompassed the common goal of removing the prime minister.
“The deference and respect provided does not extend to (Dr Mahathir’s) playing a role in determining the policies and direction of the opposition. The opposition see him as a lightning rod in their battle to take over power,” he said in an email to Malay Mail Online.
Lim also ventured that the opposition would reverse many of Dr Mahathir’s policies if they ever win federal power, despite their current alignment with the former prime minister,
Dr Mahathir, together with politicians from both sides of the divide and civil society, launched the Citizens’ Declaration on March 4 in a movement called Save Malaysia to push for Najib’s resignation.
The former prime minister was allowed on stage during Pakatan Harapan’s protest against the Goods and Service Tax (GST) last week, the latest indication of its embrace of the man it once vilified as the source of the country’s many problems. – Malay Mail Online