THIS is what makes choosing either Anwar Ibrahim or Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the opposition’s prime minister-designate tricky.
Both men are tough sells to a cynical and politically fatigued public, given their track record as former Umno stalwarts and because of what they have said and done over the past few decades.
And yet, both bring huge value to Pakatan Harapan, the coalition of DAP, PKR, Bersatu and Amanah.
This dilemma captures the internal discussion within the DAP leadership in the wake of the seemingly acrimonious fight between PKR and Bersatu over who will be PH’s prime minister-designate.
Although officially DAP is sticking with jailed former opposition leader Anwar, some of its leaders told The Malaysian Insight that Bersatu has strong grounds for wanting the post.
The Malay majority party and youngest partner in PH wants either its chairman, Dr Mahathir, or president, Muhyiddin Yassin, to be the face of the coalition’s efforts to dethrone the ruling Barisan Nasional.
Discussions within PH are currently deadlocked as PKR and Bersatu have yet to reach a compromise on their choices. The coalition’s presidential council is expected to meet again soon.
DAP itself has no real stake in the game as it does not expect any of its senior leaders to be chosen as the coalition’s prime minister or deputy prime minister.
But it is concerned over how to convince its supporters, who make up 80% of the country’s non-Muslim voters, to support either one.
Pros and cons
The problem with Anwar is that he is in jail and the idea of having a seat-warmer while awaiting his release from prison is not convincing to the electorate, said a senior DAP leader who was prepared to speak on the matter on condition of anonymity.
This was in reference to PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s Al Jazeera interview on May 12 where she said she did not mind being a seat warmer for Anwar.
Anwar is currently serving a jail sentence for sodomy, a charge which PH argues is politically motivated. PKR plans to free him and install him as prime minister through a royal pardon.
“PKR should have just stuck to the stand that once we are elected, Anwar will be freed to be PM. That Anwar is the PM. Full stop,” said the DAP leader.
But Anwar is still DAP’s preferred candidate as the former deputy prime minister is widely accepted by non-Muslim voters and because he has built up a reputation as a progressive, inclusive Muslim leader.
Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin, on the other hand, are more difficult for DAP supporters to accept, said another DAP insider. The former is a tough sell because of his Malay nationalist roots, the source said.
“Muhyiddin, is an even harder for non-Muslims to accept. People remember how he said he was a Malay first and a Malaysian second,” the DAP leaders said referring to an infamous 2010 statement Muhyiddin made while he was Umno deputy president.
Needing each other
The flip side is that Dr Mahathir and Bersatu have rallied the rural Malays for PH, who in the 2013 general election voted overwhelmingly for BN.
Analyses have shown that the rural Malay vote is the last electorate that PH needs to win if it wants to gain federal power, as it has secured almost all of the urban and semi-urban electorate.
Dr Mahathir has been a lightning rod ever since he quit from Umno and started his campaign to remove Prime Minister Najib Razak for alleged corruption and fraud related to state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Dr Mahathir’s Save Malaysia campaign has echoes to Anwar’s reformasi battle cry in 1998 in its message to get rid of a sitting prime minister.
“Starting with the Citizens’ Declaration (in December 2014), Dr Mahathir started a mass movement that has gotten a lot of Malay support,” said another DAP leader.
The 92-year-old has been able to pull rural folk, Felda settlers and ordinary Umno members to listen to the PH message in a way that even Anwar and PKR former ally PAS have been unable to do.
Dr Mahathir created renewed momentum for the coalition after it went through a painful separation with long-time ally PAS.
It’s also Bersatu that works to dispel the fear that Umno creates among rural Malays towards DAP, said its official.
“So, on the Bersatu side, they say look here, we have people with experience in government for prime minister and we have the traction that PH needs among rural Malays,” said the official.
“So they say why not choose our people to be prime minister?”
In the end, the DAP leaders Malaysian Insight spoke to believe in giving PKR and Bersatu the space to trash these arguments out so that a compromise can be reached.
“At the end of the day, everybody realises that PH needs Bersatu and Bersatu needs PH. It’s just that this is the process within the PH,” said the DAP official.
“We know the public is disappointed because we seem to be fighting all the time. But this is the process in PH.
“It’s not like the BN, where big brother rules over all. In PH, we have real democracy.”
Perhaps the best insight came from Amanah president Mohamed Sabu.
“Instead of constantly talking about who wants to be PM, it is better we focus on working for the people,” he said.