Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been formally sworn in as the seventh prime minister, returning him to power 15 years after he left the top office. This editorial piece by FMT was published on May 5, 2017.
Today [May 5, 2017] marks four years since the opposition went to the polls for the first time as a united front. Even if electoral cosmetics such as a common logo were absent then, that was the first time that three opposition parties – PKR, PAS and DAP – fought as a single voice, five years after their historic gains that gave birth to Pakatan Rakyat.
Today, the remade coalition, Pakatan Harapan, is made up of four parties, and PAS, which gave it its biggest machinery, is no longer with it.
It appears this new coalition is more united, with serious plans to go to the polls using a common logo.
But one thing remains absent: the prime minister designate. It is the elephant in the room that the opposition has so far refused to deal with.
The truth is that voters want to know who will replace Najib Razak if they are to put their crosses on this yet-to-be-announced logo on the ballot paper.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a rocket, an incomplete oval, an incomplete pyramid or what looks like the flower that grows behind your neighbour’s wall.
Malaysians want to know who will lead them if they are to vote out BN once and for all, and not leave it battling for life like a wounded tiger, as it did in 2008 and 2013.
But who is the face of this elusive alternative government that Malaysians never had? Curiously, the more united the opposition parties are, the more elusive the identity of the prime minister designate is.
In 1999, a year after Anwar Ibrahim’s dramatic sacking, the opposition for the first time rallied around a single leader in their election campaign. Why wouldn’t they? The biggest catch had just joined their camp, a man who was so close to taking over as the country’s number one leader.
Even if Anwar was then in jail, he was the closest the opposition had to a common leader. At least, it put to rest the familiar argument then peddled by BN that the opposition had no experience in running the country.
Back then, the prime ministerial material was from a pool of familiar faces who had dominated our television screen for years. And they were all from Umno. The opposition’s argument that they were angels who should be given a chance could not suppress the temptation to choose the devil you know.
It is now almost a decade since the angels we once didn’t know have ruled some of the most crucial states in the country. At the next polls, voters can make a reasonably fair comparison, now that we know all the devils on both sides.
But the space reserved for the person we need to compare with Najib is empty. Who is the opposition’s choice for his replacement?
To get the answer, we have to ask these questions: Who is the most experienced from among the politicians in the opposition coalition today? Who, realistically speaking, can make announcements on behalf of the new government within hours of winning, without having to go through the tedious process of getting out of jail? Who is that familiar face that voters of all hues have known for a good part of their lives?
It is none other than the biggest devil we all know, and with whom the majority of us have grown up, or old, with for a good part of our lives, Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar walked through the fire and was forgiven for his past experiments. He was raised to prime ministerial material, even when in jail.
Mahathir, whose past is a mix of national pride and mega failures, and who has set aside the ego for which he is internationally known, is now sitting down with his sworn enemies for a common purpose. And he is not in jail.
Mahathir, the prime minister many of us knew for 22 years of our lives, is the best person to be named the prime minister designate.
It’s time he came back to this post, at least for a short while, until the shock of an alternative government settles down on Malaysians.
Ignore the elephant in the room, and Malaysians may again leave a wounded tiger, this time probably more hurt.
Abdar Rahman Koya is the editor-in-chief of FMT.