Picking Dr M for PM a ‘double-edged’ decision, observers say

The ramifications of the PH endorsement of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on supporters who still remember life under the former PM were not immediately clear. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
The ramifications of the PH endorsement of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on supporters who still remember life under the former PM were not immediately clear. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, Jan 8 — Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) choice of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as its candidate for prime minister will bring as much problems as it will advantages, said political experts.

While acknowledging that the former prime minister has decades of invaluable experience, they pointed out that Dr Mahathir remained associated with many of the controversies and scandals that plagued his administration, some of which remain unresolved today.

Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Kamarul Zaman Yusoff conceded that Dr Mahathir was a logical choice given his remaining influence and experience.

“But at the same time, the coalition’s opponents may use this as ammunition and highlight the lack of capable leaders within PH, having to rely on a 92-year old former premier with his own baggage.

“Additionally Dr Mahathir’s promises of a wholesale reform of the Malaysian political system is somewhat questionable, seeing as it was he who laid its groundwork to begin with,” he told the Malay Mail.

He said it also remained to be seen if the political stalwart could — at nearly a century old — rediscover the same verve and motivation from his 22 years as prime minister.

The ramifications of the PH endorsement of Dr Mahathir on supporters who still remember life under the former PM — variously described as authoritarian by some and dictatorial by others — were not immediately clear.

While his newfound allies appear ready to forgive Dr Mahathir for past transgressions, those among their rank-and-file seem less eager to do so.

Both Kamarul Zaman and geopolitical expert Azmi Hassan noted that consternation remains within Opposition supporters over the pact’s embrace of Dr Mahathir.

“Dr Mahathir’s experiences mean it can be said PH has steady hands in governing the nation should they win. Yet I believe this might prove to be their bane, as the electorate still remember the 22 years of his leadership,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

“I think PH underestimates the voters’ sentiments, especially the fence sitters, with regards to Dr Mahathir’s legacy,” he said.

Merdeka Center for Opinion Research co-founder and programmes director Ibrahim Suffian said that by incorporating Dr Mahathir so closely into their plans, the PH pact stood to gain from his intricate expertise of how the government machinery operates.

Dr Mahathir also continues to have pockets of support in the higher echelons of the civil service and is held in some esteem by rural Malay voters, which Ibrahim said would allow the pact to offer a tough opponent to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders also risk going overboard with their attacks against Dr Mahathir, which could work to the latter’s favour in the court of public opinion, he added.

“Conversely Dr Mahathir’s image is negative among some Islamists, particularly PAS sympathisers,” he said.

Dr Mahathir last month criticised state religious leaders from his time, accusing them of not censuring Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who is now PAS president, over a 1981 speech in which the latter tarred Umno members as kafir (infidels).

The former prime minister has blamed Hadi’s speech for the deadly 1985 Memali Incident, one of the black marks on his administration.

This image would make it harder for PH to persuade what Ibrahim called a “critical” segment of voters to support them, especially as it will likely be engaged in three-way electoral contests against BN as well as PAS.

“If Dr Mahathir and his team can adopt a pragmatic approach in convincing undecided and non-Pakatan Opposition leaning voters, he might be able to surprise everyone,” Ibrahim ventured.

At the PH convention in Shah Alam yesterday, the pact announced that its component leaders have unanimously decided that Dr Mahathir would again be prime minister if they won the general election.

Dr Mahathir’s selection comes with the stipulation that he must make way for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who will be released from prison on June 8, to become prime minister once the latter obtains a royal pardon that would allow him to stand for election.

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