PETALING JAYA: PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar has come under fire from PPBM leaders over an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times in which she called party chairman and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad a former dictator.
PPBM Supreme Council member Tariq Ismail, the grandson of former deputy prime minister Ismail Abdul Rahman and a staunch supporter of Mahathir, said the label was unfair.
“If Tun was still a dictator, he would have an entire Cabinet of PPBM ministers,” he told FMT. “A dictator would be the only voice.”
He also said that Mahathir, who is Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman as well, often leaves it to his ministers to decide on the next course of action.
“Has anyone heard of a dictator who resigns and comes back to power in an election?” he added.
In her interview with the Straits Times, Nurul Izzah voiced unhappiness over political developments following last year’s general election, including the lack of a clear-cut narrative to strengthen the middle ground and the acceptance of former Umno MPs into Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Describing the last year as “turbulent and tumultuous”, she said it was not easy having to work with Mahathir.
“I mean having to work with a former dictator who wreaked so much damage, not just on our lives but the system. It was not easy,” she was quoted as saying.
Tariq said Nurul Izzah should “give credit where credit is due”, adding that PH would not have won the election without Mahathir.
“Nurul Izzah is entitled to her opinion, but her father did not break himself out of jail,” he added, referring to Anwar Ibrahim’s release from prison following a royal pardon in the wake of PH’s victory at the polls.
He acknowledged her frustrations about the lack of change, saying he too would like to see reforms in the country.
“But during a transition period, especially with our work culture within the civil service, it will take time.”
PPBM’s Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who is youth and sports minister in Mahathir’s Cabinet, also defended the veteran statesman, saying many reforms have taken place under his leadership.
“We have enabled media freedom, freed up the Election Commission, separated the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission from the Prime Minister’s Office and come up with a structural plan to combat corruption in the National Anti-Corruption Plan, which includes a bill on political financing regulation,” he told FMT.
“Let’s not forget that under Mahathir, all Cabinet members have declared their assets and income, and MPs must do the same.”
He added that it was Mahathir who, on numerous occasions, had asked for a cap on the prime minister’s tenure through a constitutional amendment. He had also had the moral courage to appoint non-high ranking party members to the Cabinet, he said.
Former PPBM member Khairuddin Abu Hassan, meanwhile, said Nurul Izzah’s remarks were inappropriate and unethical.
“This is the problem with PH allies: some of them are not sincere,” he said, adding that a lot of time is wasted deflecting attacks from “friends”.
He also said it was likely an attempt to weaken Mahathir’s credibility and topple him as prime minister.
Universiti Utara Malaysia analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff questioned Nurul Izzah’s choice of words in an interview with a Singapore daily, noting Malaysia’s presently strained ties with the republic.
Kamarul said Nurul Izzah’s tone was consistent with her stand so far but cautioned that this, coupled with her resignation from the Public Accounts Committee and plans not to re-contest her seat in GE15, could heighten the perception that rumours on the move to pressure the prime minister into resigning could be true.
“Whether that criticism was intended to pile the pressure on the prime minister or not, already we see some segments within PH hailing her as a hero for her audacity to do so while other segments, including from within her own party, PKR, are quick to criticise her.”
Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi, meanwhile, said it “creates a perception that something is so wrong that Nurul no longer plans to be active in politics”.
“I believe this will lead to trouble within PH and PKR as Nurul Izzah has chosen to air her frustrations openly instead of through PH’s internal channels,” he added.
Although he believes Nurul Izzah’s remarks reflect a culture of openness in PH, he warned that it could be construed as her feelings on her father’s future and a message to Mahathir to step down sooner.
PKR’s Wong Chen, however, sympathised with Nurul’s position.
“The (reform) process is very frustrating, presumably because of the lack of political will to reform,” he told FMT.