KUALA LUMPUR — While top leaders in both DAP and PKR are now openly warm towards former nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), sentiments lower in the ranks are less clear.
Dr Mahathir’s alliance with the federal Opposition has triggered public scepticism due to the fact that the former prime minister was once the fiercest rival to heads of both parties, and had been responsible for the imprisonment of several key leaders like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng.
The purported discontent was also cited as the reason for the departure of one federal and three Malacca state lawmakers from DAP this week.
Following decades of accusations, insults and harsh exchanges, the former prime minister is now a central figure in the Opposition’s campaign for the next general election, and is regularly featured in many PKR, DAP and Amanah ceramahs throughout the country.
DAP has even paraded Dr Mahathir’s admission of “guilt” for his previous attacks against the party back when he had still been in Umno, claiming that is proof that the veteran politician can be trusted as an ally.
While national leaders see the importance in working with Dr Mahathir and PPBM to avoid multi-cornered fights in the 14th general election (GE14), is the same level of acceptance felt among ordinary party members?
Strong Malay leader
“After Anwar we need someone strong to lead (the) Opposition, (and there) cannot be anyone stronger than Dr Mahathir. During DAP’s convention in Shah Alam, not even a single member raised any objection on working with Dr Mahathir.
“We need a strong Malay leader like Dr Mahathir,” grassroots DAP leader A. Sivanesan told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
The Sungkai assemblyman felt that many in DAP were now confident of Dr Mahathir’s track record of running the country, and that there are no other Malay leaders within Pakatan Harapan with his experience.
“DAP cannot dream of working alone. The most affected leaders are Lim Kit Siang and family. If they can set aside their agony and work with Dr Mahathir, we must do the same,” Sivanesan said.
He pointed out that DAP was always open to working with other parties, and that the Semangat 46 alliance and Pakatan Rakyat in 2008 was proof of this.
“We are only concerned about who is going to form the next government. If Dr Mahathir can show the way, then there is nothing wrong with working with him,” the Perak DAP leader said.
Deputy PKR Youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin admitted that there are conflicted feelings within his party on cooperating with Dr Mahathir and PPBM, but said the former Umno man has proven so far to be committed to Pakatan Harapan’s reform agenda.
“There are mixed views, but as long as Tun Mahathir subscribes to the Reformasi agenda, we can cooperate,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Seeking allies before GE14
Another Perak DAP leader, Terence Naidu, said that initially there was some scepticism among ordinary members that the alliance with Dr Mahathir would last, but added that many critics have now changed their mind and are more accepting towards working with PPBM.
“There is still caution, but we are open to explore new alliances, not only Dr Mahathir but other people who are like-minded,” the Pasir Bedamar assemblyman said.
PKR’s Dr Azman Ismail said the party’s grassroots have been more accepting of Dr Mahathir ever since he visited Anwar in court and after having heard the contents of his speeches.
“Most members at the grassroots level were cautious initially but have now accepted cooperation with Dr Mahathir,” the Kuala Kedah MP told Malay Mail Online.
Selangor DAP leader Lau Weng San said that the need to strengthen the coalition ahead of GE14 was also a key reason why many party members and supporters are now supportive of Dr Mahathir’s entry into Pakatan Harapan.
“The need to solidify our resources and some positive remarks from Dr Mahathir on the DAP, including his admission of guilt in framing the party in the past has helped,” the Kampung Tunku assemblyman told Malay Mail Online.