KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian opposition parties must fight the next election as one party, under one symbol, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said at the first national convention of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition of three parties.
"Our main battle now is to kick out Prime Minister Najib (Razak)," said Dr Mahathir, adding, "For this, we need to close ranks."
"Only we can stop Datuk Seri Najib... Our wish is to fix democracy in our country. What we have now is merely kleptocracy," he said.
Dr Mahathir indicated that the newly formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), of which he is the chairman, was still holding talks with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which is not part of the coalition, in this regard. He said that PPBM was keen to join the PH alliance, but was waiting for PAS' reaction to its overtures first.
"Bersatu will be a part of the opposition coalition. We have some minor issues with regard to the position of PAS. because PAS has the ability to sabotage. If they decline, they'll end up sabotaging the efforts to unseat Datuk Seri Najib. Because we know if there's a three-cornered fight, the possibility for BN to win is very high," he said.
"So if PAS doesn't join the opposition and accept the division of constituencies where they'll put their candidates, there will be three-cornered fights in at least 40 constituencies. This will give victory to BN. We are still discussing with them. We are trying to make clear to them that a three-cornered fight is going to kill us. If there is a one-to-one, the chances are that the opposition would win," said Dr Mahathir.
With respect to the opposition parties fighting under one banner, Dr Mathir said, "That's what we are negotiating with our friends. We want to be a part of Pakatan Harapan, but it must be a single party with a single symbol. If you use your own party symbol, then there's a likelihood that some voters would not vote. So we have to use a single symbol."
He also said that his party had not yet decided on a candidate they wanted to see as potential prime minister, adding that the candidate could come from any opposition party.
"The coalition has to agree upon this. We cannot name the candidate now. Because if we do there may be differences between us," said Dr Mahathir.
When asked if he now supports the Free Anwar movement seeking to release jailed PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir dodged the issue, asserting, "We have to also abide by the rule of law."
Asked who the alternative prime ministerial candidate could be, Dr Mahathir said, "We have to be democratic... Whoever it is, if they all agree, we cannot disagree."
"Obviously there are several candidates. Each party may have their own candidate. But at the moment, we cannot make a decision on that. It's like having the eggs before they're hatched," he said.
Dr Mahathir also broached the subject of reforms in Malaysia at the convention. "I have no problem supporting reformation. Among the reforms is cleaning up the electoral system," said Dr Mahathir.
Speaking after Dr Mahathir, Selangor Menteri Besar and PKR leader Azmin Ali said that based on comments made by PAS leaders, "It's very forthcoming, positive that they understand the issues, that we need to work together, the importance of a one-to-one fight."
However, he added, "It's a good start, but don't push beyond that. We need to discuss, talk and come up with a solution as soon as possible."
Pakatan Harapan (PH), a coalition of three Malaysian opposition parties, kicked off its first national convention on Saturday (Nov 12), hoping to showcase a united opposition front ahead of a possible general election next year.
PH was formed in September last year by the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Malay-led but multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Amanah, a splinter group of PAS.
The coalition came about soon after a bitter breakup of the Pakatan Rakyat alliance due to disagreements between DAP and PAS over the role of Islam in politics.
The convention is being held in the Selangor capital of Shah Alam.
Although it was invited to the convention, PAS said it will not attend because it does not want to be in the same room as DAP.
In another blow to the convention, Parti Warisan Sabah also did not attend. The opposition party was formed by former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal and was widely expected to work together with PH to weaken Umno in Sabah.