Is it time for Anwar Ibrahim to step aside?

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Malaysia’s opposition leader faces calls from coalitions and supporters to make way for new faces.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s perennial prime minister, is facing questions over his leadership after a humiliating performance by his Paktan Harapan (PH) coalition in recent state elections.

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The lack of votes left many wondering about its chances of success in the national elections due early next year.

Paktan Harapan has been in opposition since seizing power in February 2020. Disgruntled elements of the coalition with politicians defeated in the historic 2018 elections led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the collapse of the government.

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Anwar, who was Mahathir’s designated successor, has been trying to regain power ever since, but suffered a major setback with a massive defeat in the Melaka state elections last month.

The PH alliance managed to retain only five seats in the 28-seat state assembly, while ally Democratic Action Party (DAP) won four and Amanah one. Anwar’s party, the People’s Justice Party or PKR, failed to win a single seat despite fielding 11 candidates.

The disappointing performance made Anwar trend on Twitter and thousands of Malaysians lambasted him for poor election strategies, and some urged him to retire to make way for younger leaders.

Analysts say voters punished the PH for pitting controversial figures, including former chief minister Idris Haron, who was sacked from the PKR rival, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), after he expressed his support. Withdrew and helped trigger the fall of the state government in October. ,

Political analyst Bridget Welsh told Al Jazeera that Anwar, in particular, should be blamed for poor strategy of fielding “frogs” – a term used for party hoppers – especially Idris, who On his way to victory in the state was maligned by PH. Back in 2018.

“He (Anwar) is the one who advocated for ‘frogs’, insisted on accepting ‘frogs’ and he insisted on Idris Haron contesting the election. These people are tainted. Idris Haron was the reason why Melaka was cast. Harapan won in GE14 (2018 election) and what Anwar does now is pick him as a candidate. Anwar clearly has no sense of the ground,” she said.

Anwar Ibrahim (second right) has been a prominent figure in Malaysian politics since he was recruited into the United Malaysian National Organization by Mahathir Mohamad (centre). Anwar’s fall in 1998 fueled calls for reform and the development of an opposition that was finally able to win power in 2018. [File: Reuters]

Anwar has been one of Malaysia’s most prominent politicians for nearly 40 years. He emerged as a flamboyant student leader, rose through the ranks at UMNO, and was sacked by Mahathir in 1998 as deputy prime minister and minister of finance at the height of the Asian financial crisis.

The country watched in agony as he was accused of sodomy and put on trial – a stained mattress was put to court as an important piece of evidence.

Anwar ended up behind bars and has been jailed several times since then, but his downfall and subsequent protests fueled the rise of Malaysia’s first effective opposition.

collective decision

Anwar’s wife founded the PKR while Anwar was in prison – its flag represents the black eye he suffered at the hands of the country’s police chief in custody.

Out of prison, Anwar transformed the party into a strong force, building a coalition that saw an increasingly strong performance in elections throughout the 2000s.

In 2018, in the wake of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, and once again allied with Mahathir, Anwar’s former mentor, Pakatan Harapan was finally able to claim victory.

Anwar was pardoned and released from another prison shortly after, and Mahathir named Anwar as his successor.

But the transfer of power never happened.

After the fall of the PH government, it was veteran politician Muhyiddin Yassin who was believed to have the support of parliamentarians and was sworn in as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia.

PKR Communications director Fahmi Fadzil insisted that Anwar should not be blamed for the Melaka debacle.

“It is a collective decision, any decision made in PH is made collectively. At the time, supporting Idris was a collective decision,” he told Al Jazeera.

The People’s Justice Party was founded by Anwar’s wife, Wan Aziza Wan Ismail, after Anwar was sacked, accused of sodomy and imprisoned. The flag symbolizes the black eye Anwar which was developed after being beaten in custody [File: Lai Seng Sin/AP Photo]

This is not the first time that Anavar has failed to perform.

Last September, the former deputy prime minister claimed he had a strong, formidable and solid majority to form the government, but he only saw his plan fail.

And after Muhyiddin resigned after losing support in August, Anwar again claimed a majority to form the government – ​​only to lose to UMNO vice-president Ismail Sabri Yacoub who became the country’s ninth prime minister.

In fact, Anwar has been claiming to be the number since 2008, when he took out a mass rally claiming he had enough support to replace the then prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but that did not lead to anything. .

Al Jazeera requested an interview with Anwar, but his office had not responded by the time of publication.

Among those seen as potential successors to Anwar are young, fresh faces, such as his own daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, and PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli.

Following the defeat, Rafizi, who has maintained a low political profile for the past few years, tweeted that he hoped Paktan’s leaders would study the result, “reject arrogance”, and do better in the next general elections.

Even DAP’s Anthony Locke, a former transport minister, indicated that PH should not just insist on nominating Anwar to the top post, other names should be considered as well.

The pro-Anwar group, Otai Reformasi, jumped to Anwar’s defense, saying he should not be made a “black sheep” for the outcome of the Melaka elections.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Amanah Communications director Khalid Samad said Anwar had weaknesses, but that didn’t mean he needed to leave, especially given his contribution to changing the face of Malaysian politics.

“Anwar has his weaknesses but no one is perfect. If we decide on the basis of weakness, there will be no perfect candidate. We should sit together and take a decision,” he said, referring to the choice of alliance for the prime minister. He did not elaborate on Anwar’s weaknesses.

The reform was part of an appeal to those who voted for the Pakatan Harapan Coalition. But conservatives fought against the change, and the government withdrew from signing a UN anti-discrimination convention when thousands of ethnic Malay Muslims, the country’s majority ethnic group, protested against the plan. [File: Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

Khalid, who represents the city of Shah Alam, was adamant on who should nominate Paktan for the 15th general elections, but said it would be a collective decision of all PH parties.

“The PH Presidential Council will decide when the time comes. We are fighting for certain ideals, not for certain individuals. Whoever brings these ideals and can bring all parties together is the obvious choice,” They said.

finding a vision

The Melaka results have highlighted the problems facing the coalition as it tries to seize power in a country that is 60 percent Malay Muslim but includes people of Chinese and Indian origin as well as indigenous ethnic groups. There are large communities. Elections in Sarawak’s Borneo state will be held later this month.

Analysts say winning the ethnic Malay vote is at the top of the agenda after Barsatu’s departure, once Mahathir’s party, but now under Muhyiddin and currently part of the Perikatan National (PN) government.

Anwar, who is often seen as too liberal by Malays and too religiously conservative by non-Muslims, had failed in his appeal to Malaysians, says E Sun Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. .

Voters who voted for the PN include both a racial Bursatu and a religious PAS. The base finds it difficult to occupy, old and young alike,” he told Al Jazeera.

Politicians within Pakistan are also worried.

“The voter base is saying something. PH is in a dilemma, we have no nationalist Malay party as we did with Bersatu in 2018,” said DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago.

Apart from capturing the Malay vote, PH also has to try to woo the youth for this purpose.

The Coalition has seen its support among youths vanish, mainly due to their failure to implement the reforms promised when they were in power, such as repeal of repressive laws such as the Sedition Act, abolishing student loans. and accept international convention. Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (ICERD). The plan was shelved after mass protests by ethnic Malaysians.

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, PH’s former poster boy for youth, has also left the fold to found his own youth-based party, Muda. The party has yet to gain official registration, but has created a new rival in Paktan’s efforts to attract younger voters.

Young people have found their political voice in Malaysia, but have criticized not only recent governments, but also the opposition Paktan Harapan. [File: Arif Kartono/AFP]

Malaysia finally set to lower the voting age to 18 – a reform pushed through by Syed Saddiq when he was Minister of Youth and Sports – youth vote to increase voters from 14.9 million during the 2018 elections to 22.7 in 2023 Ready to make a million. Deadline for the next election.

Ong Qian Ming, DAP’s assistant director of political education, says PH should pursue a more youth-oriented narrative, focusing on jobs, technology and education opportunities to capture the youth vote.

“PH will have to regroup to present a new and more compelling narrative moving forward. “PH leaders must show the foresight and direction to voters in Malaysia to change the current sentiment that is lukewarm and does not support PH,” said Ong, a member of parliament for Bungie on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

For analyst Welsh, the key is Anavar.

She says the 74-year-old will have to make way for more dynamic-minded people if PH is to be effectively challenged in the next election.

“The issue here is that he (Anwar) is clearly not ready to give way. A lot of people think that it is about his personal ambition and he is losing the support of party members and political base.

“You have to give space to young leaders and rebrand as an alliance. In short, Anwar has to have an exit plan,” she said.

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