Anwar will be PM8 if opposition wins election

Pakatan Harapan leaders Mahathir Mohamad and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail unveiling the PH logo yesterday.
Pakatan Harapan leaders Mahathir Mohamad and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail unveiling the PH logo yesterday.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB/THE STAR

But no mention of who will be seventh PM as PH unveils leadership structure

Malaysians still do not know who would be prime minister should the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance topple the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

But it is clear now that a pardon will be sought for former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy conviction, with a plan to install him as the country's eighth premier.

Anwar as "PM8", or Prime Minister No. 8, was the "bonus" announcement made at a press conference to unveil PH's leadership structure, known as the PH presidential council, yesterday.

Current Prime Minister Najib Razak is Malaysia's sixth leader.

Sources told The Straits Times that it was a necessary concession to Anwar, de facto leader of PH component party Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), to ensure his former nemesis Mahathir Mohamad would be allowed to lead a disparate opposition pact against scandal-hit Datuk Seri Najib in a general election due by next August.

Said a senior PH leader after a leadership meeting stretched into the early hours of Friday: "Mahathir pushed for the official leadership structure because he knows voters want clarity. Anwar as PM8 was not mentioned in writing, but Mahathir promised to tell the press that and he did."

The seventh PM was not named.

PH's presidential council wants Dr Mahathir - who sacked Anwar as deputy premier in 1998 before the latter was jailed - to take chairmanship of PH, while Anwar and his wife reprise their de facto leader and president roles in PKR respectively.

PH's presidential council wants Dr Mahathir - who sacked Anwar as deputy premier in 1998 before the latter was jailed - to take chairmanship of PH, while Anwar and his wife reprise their de facto leader and president roles in PKR. PH secretary-general Saifuddin Abdullah said they used terms familiar to the public, but Anwar's role would be that of an adviser.

PH secretary-general Saifuddin Abdullah said they used terms familiar to the public, but Anwar's role would be that of an adviser.

"The chairman will oversee the operations of the coalition, while the president will assist him," he told The Straits Times. "But decision-making must be endorsed by the presidential council, while the administrative secretariat has already been meeting every week. "

PH comprises PKR, Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara.

Social media chatter panned the need to fall back on a former premier and his deputy who were in power two decades ago, and BN leaders were also equally dismissive of the announcement.

Anwar was jailed for sodomy in 2015, disqualifying him from running in the next elections.

Said Communications Minister Salleh Said Keruak: "Instead of making promises, it is better the opposition pact names their PM candidate first. It's weird that when asked by reporters, the chairman said we will declare the eighth PM first; the seventh PM, we will decide later."

But analysts noted that such a formal structure was a milestone never achieved by an opposition pact.

Many Malays still respect Dr Mahathir, who led Umno for 22 years before stepping down in 2003.

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior visiting fellow Wan Saiful Wan Jan said: "We are expecting millions of new voters to be on the electoral roll this time. And many of them idolise Mahathir ."

However, PH will still have to tussle over seat allocations for the general election as well as figure out how to deal with the formidable Parti Islam SeMalaysia as a potential spoiler after it opted to stay out of the opposition alliance.

Said Pacific Research Centre principal adviser Oh Ei Sun: "The current opposition pact is a larger entity than before which necessitates a formal structure. It somewhat narrows down the crucial process of seat negotiations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Anwar will be PM8 if opposition wins election'. Print Edition | Subscribe