With allies’ dissent over Budget 2021 vote, has the sun set on Anwar’s time as Opposition chief?

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a press conference at Le Meredian Kuala Lumpur October 13, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a press conference at Le Meredian Kuala Lumpur October 13, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 — Open unhappiness within the Opposition over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s unexpected call to let Budget 2021 pass the policy stage indicated some may be losing faith in his leadership, said political analysts.

Opposition parties were criticised by supporters after the anticipated fight against the federal spending plan fizzled out last week. Matters were made worse after the bloc suffered a string of defeats at the committee stage this week despite Anwar’s claim that they would put up heavy resistance.

After Anwar directed the Opposition to stand down last week, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman was forced to issue a statement clarifying that his decision was unilateral and went against the wishes of components parties DAP and Parti Amanah Negara.

Since then, Parti Warisan Sabah that is aligned with PH has also snubbed division votes at the committee stage to signal its displeasure with Anwar’s leadership.

Universiti Putra Malaysia's (UPM) politics and government analyst Jayum Jawan said the fiasco indicated that Anwar should contemplate making way for others to lead the Opposition.

The professor also said PH should not hang on to Anwar’s claim of securing a “formidable” majority with which to take over the government, but plan ahead for the 15th general election.

“As far as PH is concerned, the coalition should focus and strategise for the coming election without Anwar. He is not going to bring the Malay votes beyond what PKR has gained in the 2018 general elections.

“There are no more Malay voters for him to fish anyway. PKR has won what can be won from the Malay heartland,” Jayum told Malay Mail.

PH should also start grooming the next generation to take over key leadership roles, said Jayum, who concluded that Anwar was not the only one whose star power was on the wane.

“If PH and its components such as PKR and DAP are to move beyond 2018, they must put up new faces to lead. People have had enough of family politics and domination.

“These two parties must put up new credible leaders that are in abundance in both parties for the them to remain relevant and move beyond the 2018 general election,” he added.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak's political analyst Prof Jeniri Amir also believes that the fiasco surrounding the Budget 2021 vote was not something from which Anwar would be able to recover.

As with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Jeniri said Anwar must accept that his time as the proverbial glue that binds the Opposition, has passed.

Jeniri explained that the two developments — capitulating to Perikatan Nasional on Budget 2021 and the claim to have enough support to seize control of Putrajaya — have done irreparable harm to Anwar’s standing as the leader of the federal Opposition.

“I mean based on what happened in the last few days, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Anwar.

“I don't think there is hope for Anwar now, with all due respect. He has lost his credibility,” Jeniri said.

Jeniri also feels PH needs to move past Anwar, but questioned if the coalition would be able to do so given that it did not have a natural successor within its ranks.

While he said the debacle over the Budget 2021 vote should not oblige Anwar to resign, it did require the Opposition coalition to urgently start evaluating possible candidates to take over from him.

After the vote on Budget 2021 on Thursday last week, PH sources said Anwar had asked them to give him “one more week” to prove he commands the majority in Dewan Rakyat, failing which he would resign as PH chairman and Opposition leader.

That time has now come and gone, with no word either from Anwar or PH whether the deadline has passed, or if Anwar has succeeded.

But not all analysts believe the Opposition’s defeat during the Budget 2021 last week was necessarily fatal to Anwar’s position.

Universiti Sains Malaysia's political analyst Sivamurugan Pandian said Anwar would still be able to rally the Opposition behind him, provided that “the goal is clear”.

Sivamurugan pointed to Anwar's leadership in 2008 and 2013, when he did the “unthinkable” then by uniting PAS and DAP together with PKR,  and later joined hands with his former nemesis Dr Mahathir.

The professor also said Anwar’s position as the chief of the Opposition was effectively guaranteed by the lack of depth in the coalition’s leaders.

“Anwar has always been seen as someone who could glue the Opposition pact. If they lose trust, then they will have to realign and find new political configuration.

“Yet, Anwar will still enjoy large support from the public, although some distrust his moves and actions. Can a new leader act better than him? Is PH ready to move beyond Anwar?” he asked.

Geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan said PH was unlikely to baulk if Anwar reneged on his offer to resign if the latter could not prove his numbers, saying that the PKR president still has “national appeal” despite recent events.

Failure to prove the numbers only meant Anwar lacked support from rival lawmakers, and not necessarily that he was unpopular among voters, Azmi said.

“The only mistake Anwar made was when he said he had a convincing and formidable majority. Maybe that was true at that particular time, but in our very volatile local political timeline, a lot can change in a few days, especially when it comes to MPs’ allegiances,” he said.

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