KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — Pakatan Harapan could lose support from a crucial segment of the electorate if it fails to contain the disquiet brewing over Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's presence within the Opposition camp, analysts said.
While the rumblings may not be obvious, things came to a head when hardcore PKR supporters made their displeasure with Dr Mahathir’s presence felt by jeering the former prime minister at the party's event four days ago.
Analysts believe such a response could be the manifestation of an underlying problem engulfing not only PKR, but the entire opposition camp: it is clear the grassroots are divided when it comes to their feelings about the alliance with Dr Mahathir.
Malay Mail Online had spoken previously with the bloc's grassroots leaders and found that many in Pakatan Harapan's lower ranks were suspicious of Dr Mahathir's agenda, while some questioned their leaders' decision to forge ties with a man they once described as an "iron-fisted dictator."
For the leaders, the incident could be brushed aside as insignificant.
But to the voters, especially the fence sitters, the ones who may decide the outcome in some swing constituencies in the upcoming general election, Pakatan Harapan's inability to agree on a common position will again reinforce the existing perception that the bloc's factional politics make them unfit to take over federal power.
"They have mixed feelings for the simple reason that they are getting all sorts of conflicting messages over a period of time," Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, a senior political analyst with Universiti Malaya, told Malay Mail Online.
"On the one hand this group is ganging up with this group, this personality teaming up with that personality even though the issues (they fight for) are the same," he added.
Among the most glaring examples of this disconnect is the pact's inability to agree if Dr Mahathir should be allowed to lead the pact in the absence of their de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, now in jail for a second sodomy conviction.
The way some leaders have communicated the matter has been messy. While some insinuated, be it verbally or in action, that Dr Mahathir is indeed the de facto leader, opposing factions say otherwise.
To make matters worse, much of this disagreement has been voiced openly through the media to the delight of its rivals in the government who have consistently exploited the situation to paint Pakatan Harapan as a chaotic and reckless political bloc.
"If this is going to go on and on, it won't only sap their energy, but will also create greater disarray among their followers… it looks as if they can't be coherent," Mohamad said.
This could ultimately lead to paralysis in the bloc’s machinery, in which dissatisfied members take out their anger by refusing to campaign for any of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia's candidates come the 14th general election.
"You need to have a fluid, well-oiled machinery during the campaign period," Faisal Hazis, a political analyst attached to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, told Malay Mail Online.
"You need one voice in terms of say, the role of Mahathir in mobilising the Malays… you can't have your party members talking negatively about Mahathir but at the same time your top leadership needing Mahathir's contribution in terms of getting the Malay votes," he added.
Four days ago, online news portal Malaysiakini reported that the crowd at the Reformis Malaysia convention jeered and heckled Dr Mahathir who made a surprise appearance at the gathering.
The portal reported that some members of the audience called the former prime minister firaun or pharaoh, a negative term used to describe his style of leadership. Some also shouted "reformasi" and "free Anwar.”
Dr Mahathir sacked Anwar as his deputy in 1998. The former deputy prime minister was eventually charged and jailed for sodomy and power abuse although the latter conviction was overturned by the Federal Court a few years later.
Anwar after his sacking subsequently led the reform movement and formed PKR, a multiracial party made up mostly of disgruntled ex-Umno members and activists.
But despite being almost two decades old, the party seems to be united only on the surface. After Anwar, PKR's only unifying factor, was jailed for a second sodomy charge in 2013, factionalism plagued the party again.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the disconnect between the PKR leadership and its grassroots on the alliance with Dr Mahathir had once again exposed the party's weakness.
"PKR has problems even presenting a united front for itself, not to mention trying to accommodate a newcomer, supposedly friendly party, headed by a former nemesis of their de facto, albeit jailed, supreme leader," Oh said.
"So what I am trying to say is even individual PKR leaders have problems getting full-fledged support from their own members, what more Dr M?" he added, referring to Dr Mahathir by his more popular monicker.