World

Malaysian opposition settles leadership issue

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir named chairman of Pakatan Harapan

PETALING JAYA:  Malaysia's main opposition groups overcame a major hurdle early yesterday by finalising its leadership structure after months of bickering between parties led by former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his jailed former deputy Anwar Ibrahim.

The four parties grouped under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance have named Anwar as its de-facto leader. Dr Mahathir is chairman of the alliance. And Dr Wan Azizah Ismail - Anwar's wife and president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) - will be PH's president.

The move is seen as a compromise to resolve an impasse between supporters of Anwar and Dr Mahathir.

The former premier, 92, is chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). He formed the party 11 months ago as he took up cudgels against Prime Minister Najib Razak over the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

PH comprises PKR, PPBM, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Parti Amanah.

The agreement announced yesterday is crucial for the opposition alliance with the general election seen to be just months away. It must be called by August next year.

Dr Mahathir said the pact will send their registration as a formal alliance to the Registrar of Societies (ROS) as soon as possible. "I want it to be fast, tomorrow if possible. But I think it will be done in a week's time."

PH wants to register as a formal opposition pact using a single logo, similar to what the 13-party ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) has done.

The opposition in past elections had managed to work together, but were using their own logos, confusing some voters.

The registration of PH as a formal coalition to the ROS had been held up following disputes on who should be named the pact's top leader for the polls.

While jailed opposition chief Anwar, 69, is the popular choice to become Prime Minister should PH wins power, he is behind bars and cannot contest the polls for five years even if he is released today. PKR president Dr Wan Azizah, 64, is not seen as a strong candidate for PM.

On the other hand, many in the opposition camp remain wary of allowing their long-term nemesis Dr Mahathir to lead them, just because he now supports their cause.

In a surprise move last month, Anwar withdrew himself as a candidate for PM, saying the "friction is exhausting (the opposition), as the final decision lies with the people in the general election".

Still, even with the decision reached on the leadership structure, PH is not expected to be able to defeat PM Najib's BN at the ballot box. This is because another major opposition party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, has decided to stay out of PH.

Asked if Anwar will be the coalition's Prime Minister candidate, Dr Mahathir said the pact will pursue a pardons process once it comes into power.

The PH, he said, would start the procedure to free Anwar a week after securing victory at the next general election.

He added the coalition has not yet selected an interim prime minister but the opposition intends to support Anwar as a candidate for PM after his release from prison.

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