With uncertain vote base, analysts say Anwar’s PM bid hinges on East Malaysian support

PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks at the Sabah PKR Annual General Meeting in Kota Kinabalu September 17, 2019. — Picture via Twitter/Anwar Ibrahim
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks at the Sabah PKR Annual General Meeting in Kota Kinabalu September 17, 2019. — Picture via Twitter/Anwar Ibrahim

KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s bid to become Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) prime minister candidate relies on him gaining at least one-third of East Malaysian MPs’ support, observers suggested.

Several political analysts polled by Malay Mail claimed the PKR president lacks support from the voter base in Peninsular Malaysia and if he does try to gain them, it will be difficult to contest with the Opposition and those loyal to Bersatu’s disputed chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Anwar has to have all the support in order to win as at this moment, many believe he has nothing much to offer,” said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Kartini Aboo Talib.

“He would not get comfortable support from Peninsular Malaysia owing to divided camps from Bersatu-Mahathir and the rest of the other parties,” said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's senior lecturer Suffian Mansor.

“MPs from Sarawak and Sabah are in almost one third of the seats in Parliament hence Anwar must get support from these MPs owing to sheer number of seats.”

PH and its allies are at an impasse as PKR has insisted on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the pact’s prime minister candidate whereas the rest have agreed on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in their bid to challenge the Perikatan Nasional administration.

The pact had proposed Dr Mahathir as a fallback option, after Anwar was rejected by Parti Warisan Sabah’s Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

The proposal with Dr Mahathir as the figurehead comes with the condition that he would be prime minister for six months before handing over the reins to Anwar, and for the latter to prove he has the support of Sabah and Sarawak.

According to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Azmi Hassan, Anwar’s track record in East Malaysia is nothing to be proud of, and detractors are betting against the Port Dickson MP in his bid to garner support from East Malaysia.

“It’s no secret his popularity on the Sabah-Sarawak side is nothing to be proud of especially since nothing has changed from his time in Barisan Nasional and then now in Pakatan Harapan,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

“To ensure he gets to be PM, Anwar needs to demonstrate that he has support from all quarters especially from the Borneo states.

“The other side to this is that those in PH who are uncomfortable with Anwar being prime minister are quite confident that he won’t get Borneo states’ support and they will then use this as a caveat for Dr Mahathir to handover the post to somebody else,” he added.

Anwar had made visits to Sarawak in order to convince Gabungan Parti Sarawak, but he was reportedly snubbed by Sarawak chief minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg.

Abang Johari had previously downplayed rumours of GPS teaming up with PH, comparing the state coalition to a “beautiful lady” that has caused suitors trying to woo its support.

As such, Kartini said whoever comes with the best offer for East Malaysia will win its unequivocal support.

“One thing about the political scenario in Sabah-Sarawak is their [voter] deposits easily sway depending on which party or coalition has the best offer. Granting more autonomy and decentralisation is always the 'carrot' offered by any party coalition.

“And since the 80’s, Sabah and Sarawak were controlled by a political party that is not a full member of the federal government coalition based in Peninsular, hence Anwar's promise to realize the MA63 is an added agenda that will.please both Sabahans and Sarawakians,” said Kartini.

The Malaysian Agreement 1963 (MA63) has long been a point of contention between Sabah and Sarawak against the federal government, with the East Malaysian states saying their rights have been eroded over the decades.

In August last year, the previous Pakatan Harapan government under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced it had resolved about seven out of 21 issues related to MA63.

Among the issues decided were that the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan, two tourist destinations off Sabah which have seen a spate of kidnappings in recent years, will now come under the jurisdiction of Sabah.

The other issues resolved include those related to duties on timber and forest resources in Sabah, the distribution of electricity and gas in Sarawak, and the setting up of a committee to oversee federal projects.

However, it did not resolve the promise of the increase from five to 20 per cent in oil royalty to the states, or the return of 40 per cent of federal revenue back to the states.

“For East Malaysians, MA63 is everything and the prime minister who can fulfill their wishes regarding the agreement will win their support,” said Azmi.

“As I see it, Anwar needs to convince the Sabah and Sarawak people that he is the best chance for MA63 to be granted compared to Dr Mahathir or Muhyiddin. If he can, then other matters, such as bringing about more development or giving more autonomy, I think, will follow.”

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