THE thorny issue on who should lead Pakatan Harapan, and possibly Malaysia, has put Bersatu on the verge on leaving the opposition coalition.

If the leadership issue is not resolved by the time PKR, DAP, Amanah and Parti Primbumi Bersatu Malaysia leaders meet this Friday, there is a big possibility that the political party founded by Dr Mahathir Mohamad will contest the 14th general election (GE14) on its own.

Political pundits said if the break-up happens, it will not be fatal to PH because both sides could still cobble together an electoral pact. But the larger issue is the negative perception this inability to resolve a key issue would have on the electorate, especially the estimated 15% undecided Malay voters and the 22% undecided non-Malay voters.

At the centre of dispute is whether Anwar Ibrahim should be the coalition’s choice as the prime minister of Malaysia should the opposition oust Barisan Nasional.

Some opposition leaders believe that it is tough to sell Anwar as the future PM, given that he is serving a jail term for sodomy and would require a royal pardon. There are too many ifs in that equation. They would prefer Dr Mahathir or Muhyiddin Yassin.

A Bersatu source told The Malaysian Insight that the party, led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir, is ready to walk out of the opposition pact if members fail to agree on the leadership line-up during the PH presidential council meeting on June 9.

“Bersatu is clear – we want to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak and BN in GE14. Just look at how our chairman Dr Mahathir is working. Let’s not forget that he is already 92.

“So, if we cannot resolve this issue during the June 9 meeting, it is better for us to leave PH. Even if we lose at GE14, at least our supporters will see that we are serious, and we are going all out to topple BN,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

If the party leaves PH, the opposition pact’s dreams of taking over Putrajaya will grow even slimmer as Bersatu was hoped to be able to pull in the Malay votes which it could not win in the last elections.

The source said several leaders in Bersatu felt that certain quarters within PKR were not serious about wanting to topple BN and were instead trying to sabotage PH by pushing for Anwar as candidate for the next prime minister.

“If PH wins the next elections, there is no way Anwar can be the next prime minister, which means someone else needs to hold that position as the country’s seventh leader, before Anwar,” he said.

“So, the one way to ensure that Anwar is the next prime minister is to ensure that PH loses in GE14, and the party will wait for GE15 before they really work to win.”

The Malaysian Insight also learnt that Bersatu is unable to accept PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the chairman for PH as the Permatang Pauh member of parliament has said that she was merely a “seat warmer” for her husband.

Her leading position in the opposition pact would make it harder for Bersatu to convince its grassroots supporters, especially Umno members, to cast their vote for the party.

The Malaysian Insight had previously reported that PH has yet to submit its application to the Registrar of Societies (RoS) because of a leadership dispute.

For several PH leaders, the presidential council list is merely a formality for submission to the RoS, and the real leadership line-up would be announced after the coalition wins the next elections.

Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been criss-crossing the nation despite being 92 in the quest to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 5, 2017.
Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been criss-crossing the nation despite being 92 in the quest to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 5, 2017.

Another source told The Malaysian Insight that several PH leaders did not want Dr Mahathir and Bersatu to be overly prominent, because it could create a perception that the coalition was being dominated by the newly formed party.

“This is not a good image, and we won’t get the full support of the people. Bear in mind that in the last elections, Pakatan won 53% of the popular vote.

“So, we are worried that the Malay proverb ‘Yang dikejar tak dapat dan yang dikendong berciciran’ (While chasing for the unattainable, you neglect what you already hold),” a PH leader told The Malaysian Insight.

He said Bersatu had proposed that Dr Mahathir be fielded to challenge Najib head-on as a GE14 strategy, which was why the former prime minister needed to be named the head of PH’s presidential council, with Dr Wan Azizah as his deputy.

PH’s earlier meeting last month had agreed to name Dr Wan Azizah as the chairman, with Dr Mahathir as adviser.

The leader said Bersatu was confident that if PH used Dr Mahathir as the key figure to fight Najib in the next elections, it would be easy for the coalition to win over Malay voters, especially Umno supporters.

However, this suggestion received opposition from those in the pact who wanted other PH leaders, such as Anwar, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Kit Siang to be represented equally with Dr Mahathir as a force against Najib.

“Bila mendengar guruh di langit, air tempayan jangan dicurahkan. This means that rain might fall, but nobody knows exactly for sure.

“So, just like when we hear the thunder, we are assuming that a Dr Mahathir tsunami will happen, and we are expected to pour out all our water.

“It’s better to join forces, so we will be stronger,” said the source, who wanted PH to stick to its May resolution.