PETALING JAYA: A political analyst says Malay voters are not confident that Anwar Ibrahim can champion their rights, and that the PKR president is perceived as weak compared to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The analyst, Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, said Malay voters preferred Mahathir’s no-nonsense leadership style, especially on issues regarding race and religion.
“They believe Mahathir is much stronger compared to Anwar when it comes to protecting the rights of the Malays and Islam as the official religion. In the eyes of the Malays, Mahathir can withstand pressure from DAP, for example.
“But for Anwar, the Malays have doubts if he has the mettle to fend off DAP pressure on matters of race and religion,” he told FMT.
Azmi said DAP’s insistence that Anwar be the next prime minister gave the perception that the party preferred him over Mahathir, raising doubts among Malays about the party’s actual motive.
“The perception is that Anwar is more approachable to DAP’s needs compared to Mahathir, hence, the negative perception that Anwar will be under DAP influence,” he said.
A study by the Merdeka Center has revealed a racial split in support for the two leaders, with a majority of Chinese and Indian respondents favouring Anwar, and more Malays approving of Mahathir.
The survey found that Chinese and Indian support for Mahathir had dropped in the past year while support for Anwar rose dramatically. Similarly, as Malay support for Mahathir grew, it dwindled for Anwar.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya said the major factor was the transfer of power from Mahathir to Anwar.
He told FMT that PH’s succession plan was struggling with the “politics of perception”, which had eaten away at Malay support for Anwar to be the next prime minister.
“When Mahathir was appointed PH’s prime minister-designate, BN and PAS didn’t support it because they are the opposition.
“It’s only when Mahathir became prime minister that PAS bowed to him, because they knew the prime minister had power over agencies like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Registrar of Societies and Inland Revenue Board. This scared PAS and Umno,” he said, hinting that the narrative could change when Anwar became the prime minister.
The two analysts said it was not surprising that Mahathir’s popularity had dropped in the past year, citing economic and social issues that kept the nation on edge.
However, Azmi said the blame should not only be heaped on Mahathir as many of his ministers had tarnished the reputation of the Cabinet and the prime minister.
He said Mahathir’s hardline style of governance, while favoured by the Malays, gave the perception he was behind issues that heightened racial tension.
“No matter if the issue revolves around education, economy or others, the public tends to relate it to a racial factor even if it has nothing to do with it,” he said.