PAKATAN Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the only one who can fill the leadership vacuum in the opposition created by Anwar Ibrahim’s imprisonment, said Hishamuddin Rais, Reformasi activist and once staunch critic of the former prime minister.
He told The Malaysian Insight that the man who led Malaysia for 22 years was the obvious choice because he had wider appeal compared with other opposition leaders such as Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali.
“Anwar is the right choice (but) the reality is, he is in jail. Dr Mahathir is the obvious choice because when GE14 comes, the person the ‘cukong’ (businessmen close to the government) and venture capitalists have confidence in is 92-year-old Dr Mahathir.
“The one that the feudal group, civil servants, PDRM (police), ATM (army), public institutions and the people have faith in is Dr Mahathir, not Muhyiddin or Azmin,” he said.
Hishamuddin was a political prisoner during the Reformasi movement about 20 years ago, when Dr Mahathir was prime minister
But he now believes only Dr Mahathir can lead the opposition to defeat Umno and Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“To push forward and defeat Najib, Dr Mahathir is the appropriate person,” he said.
One of the leading figures in the Reformasi movement in the late 1990s, Hishamuddin was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 26 months, between 2001 and 2003. Dr Mahathir had accused him masterminding the Reformasi movement which was borne in response to Dr Mahathir’s abrupt sacking of Anwar as the deputy prime minister in 1998 for alleged corruption and sodomy.
Anwar, the de facto PKR leader, was until recently seen as the candidate for the opposition coalition’s prime minister. He is serving a five-year jail term that began in February 2015 following a second sodomy conviction.
Dr Mahathir’s years as prime minister remain a sticking point for many activists and critics who point to him as the leader who eroded the independence of Malaysia’s institutions and suppressed press and other freedoms. Several financial scandals also took place on his watch, such as that of Perwaja Steel, Bumiputera company bailouts, and Bank Negara Malaysia’s forex trading losses amounting to tens of billions of ringgit.
PH leaders and political analysts, however, see the controversial strongman as the only way for the opposition to capture more of the Malay vote from ruling party Umno and take take from the Barisan Nasional federal government.
PH, minus PKR, recently agreed to nominate Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan ismail as the deputy prime minister should the coalition takeover the federal government in the 14th general election.
Hishamuddin, who was a well-known student activist in the 1970s, received brickbats at a forum in July for his volte-face.
“The questions are, who is our main enemy, why should we unite, and what is the role of Dr Mahathir?
“It is irrelevant whether or not I believe in Dr Mahathir,” said Hishamuddin.
He said Dr Mahathir’s international reputation was unparalleled.
“He is the only one who can call up (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, (UK Prime Minister) Theresa May or (Indonesian president) Joko Widodo, not (Amanah president) Mat Sabu or (DAP veteran Lim) Kit Siang,” he said.