KUALA LUMPUR: Opposition party leaders and activists discussing the issue of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad were divided over his current role in politics.
A forum entitled “Mahathir, agent of change or agent of destruction?” saw the panel divided in opinion, with some believing that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman was the lesser evil compared to Prime Minister Najib Razak, while others said he would cause more harm than good.
If Mahathir was still a “dictator”, he said, he would have made the decision in 15 minutes.
Mohamad added that Mahathir was necessary as he would be able to help PH reel in the much-needed rural Malay votes.
“We have all been victims during Mahathir’s time as prime minister. But we need the support of all races and Mahathir has brought the support of the Malays,” Mohamad said during the forum held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) here last night.
Activist Hishamuddin Rais, who was detained under the Internal Security Act 1984 (ISA) during Mahathir’s reign, said he had always been a proponent for a united front.
“At this juncture, Umno is our main enemy.
“Working with former Umno members is nothing new for me. I’ve worked with Anwar Ibrahim, I’ve worked with (PH president Dr) Wan Azizah (Wan Ismail), I’ve worked with (PKR deputy president) Mohamed Azmin Ali,” Hisham said.
He agreed that Mahathir had been a proven advantage when it came to winning the hearts of Malay rural voters, as previously, other opposition leaders would not have been able to even set foot in Felda areas.
“For the first time Pakatan Harapan can go into Felda. For the first time we see former Umno loyalists shouting profanities towards the police.
“This is what will bring about the tsunami that Pakatan Harapan wants,” he said.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) parliamentarian Dr Michael Jeyakumar, however, said PH was now “forced” to work with Mahathir as the opposition had paid too much attention to urban voters in the past and was not able to gain the rural votes.
“I don’t blame Mahathir, I blame Pakatan Harapan for not looking into this issue,” Jeyakumar said, adding that having Mahathir on its side would be adding the Barisan Nasional (BN) “DNA” into the coalition.
Activist Haris Ibrahim said he was not yet convinced that Mahathir had repented for his mistakes and was remorseful over the “travesty” he had inflicted upon the country.
“It is about getting rid of 50 years of race-based politics. The entire Umno ideology must go and it is not just about getting rid of Najib,” Haris said of the opposition cause.
He added that Mahathir was both a destroyer and harbinger of change, pointing to his time in Umno as proof.
“He managed to dissolve the party, bring a change and make it whole again, and now he has done the same with PPBM,” Haris said, calling the newest PH component “Umno 2.0”.
Mahathir has been receiving mixed reviews from many supporting the opposition, some of whom have been questioning if they are able to place their trust in him.
On July 13, PH named Anwar Ibrahim as de facto leader of the coalition, with Mahathir as chairman and Wan Azizah as president. All three are considered equal in the opposition coalition.
They are assisted by three deputies: Muhyiddin Yassin (PPBM), Lim Guan Eng (DAP) and Mohamad Sabu (Amanah).
PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali and his PPBM counterpart Mukhriz Mahathir were named as vice-presidents, along with DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen and Amanah’s Salahuddin Ayub.
Former deputy minister Saifuddin Abdullah is the chief secretary.