Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Bersatu have been seen as facing serious challenges to stay relevant in view of the upcoming 14th general election, following disputes and crises within the party this year.
Since its establishment over a year ago, Bersatu has been hit by several issues, such as the loss of confidence in the top leadership, and the uncertainty in the direction of the party which saw a considerable number of its members quitting.
Among those who had left the party were its own founding members, namely former vice-president Hamidah Osman, former executive secretary Kamarul Azman Habibur Rahman, and former women’s wing chief Anina Saadudin.
Kamarul (photo) quit Bersatu in April, claiming that the party had no clear direction to protect the people, while Hamidah and Anina left in September after expressing their disappointment with the party leadership.
Several more individuals holding important posts at central or state levels also decided to leave the party, including former women’s wing assistant secretary Hasnita Hishamudin in September and five other women’s wing leaders from three Kedah divisions early this month.
Many other Bersatu members, including about 500 from Rembau division, Negeri Sembilan, over 1,000 in Perak and 200 in Malacca, were also reported to have quit the party this year on various grounds, especially after losing their confidence in the party’s top leadership.
Most of the party members were also disappointed with the possibility of the party being deregistered by the Registrar of Societies for failing to hold its annual general assembly and being ineligible to contest in GE14.
Perhaps this is the reality faced by Mahathir who set up the Bersatu without any strong foundation and was merely based on seeking revenge and to topple Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (photo).
Apart from the crisis confronting the party, Mahathir had also been seen as irrelevant and inconsistent as had the tendency to change his stand on certain matters, so much so he was called the “U-turn champion” or “U-turn Mahathir” by Najib.
“I was the one who started labelling DAP as a Chinese chauvinistic party. But when I approached them, I found they are not a party merely for the Chinese community, such as MCA,” said Mahathir as reported by a news portal.
Mahathir, who was prime minister and Umno president from 1981 to 2003, had also been vocal in criticising DAP as a chauvinistic party, and had labelled Lim Kit Siang as a racist and racial extremist.
He had also criticised 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) introduced by BN government, but later expressed his desire to continue with the aid if the opposition wins the coming general election.
Angered sultan over Bugis remark
The Bersatu chairperson also created other controversies when he insulted the Bugis community at an assembly in October, which attracted rebuke from various parties, including Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.
On July 13, Pakatan Harapan which is a coalition of four opposition parties – DAP, Bersatu, PKR and Amanah – announced a new leadership structure with Mahathir appointed as chairperson while Anwar Ibrahim was made the de facto leader.
The decision made by the presidential council of the opposition coalition was seen as unanimous among Harapan component parties, but the key issue of who would be the candidate for prime minister continued to beset all and sundry in the coalition.
Even though the PKR annual national congress in May made Anwar as the candidate for prime minister, the leader is till serving his jail sentence for a sodomy conviction, and may not be able to contest in the coming election.
Earlier this month, the proposal to appoint Mahathir to the post with PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Ismail as the deputy was purportedly awaiting blessing from Anwar.
The issue of prime minister in Harapan also caught the attention of Najib who described the proposal of appointing Mahathir as prime minister again as illogical in his closing address at the 2017 Umno general assembly on Dec 9.
“I heard that a 93-year-old man is still interested in becoming prime minister again… The opposition is really in a turmoil,” said Najib.
At a media conference on Dec 12, Mahathir announced that Harapan had not made any decision on the candidate for prime minister, and that he was prepared to be nominated if the opposition coalition did not have any other candidates.