Anwar's supporters upset with Dr Mahathir's leadership of opposition alliance

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammad arrives to speak at a rally by pro-democracy group Bersih during a 1MDB protest, on Nov 19, 2016.
Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammad arrives to speak at a rally by pro-democracy group Bersih during a 1MDB protest, on Nov 19, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - A day after former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad boldly declared that he is the "top dog" in Pakatan Harapan (PH), a rift has emerged within the four-party opposition pact.

The Star newspaper reported that hardcore supporters of jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim are upset that Dr Mahathir has taken over the leadership of PH.

It said Saari Sungib, head of the Otai Reformis group of Anwar's staunch supporters, has called for an emergency meeting this Sunday in an attempt to mend the rift before it worsens.

"I am facing a spectrum of emotions in our group. My role is to breach the gap and to convince them that the aim is to win the general election," Hulu Kelang representative Saari told The Star.

Despite the purported "reconciliation" between Dr Mahathir and Anwar, The Star newspaper said that Anwar's hardcore supporters felt a sense of betrayal with the former prime minister' rise to power in PH.

It is understood that the group's secretary Razak Ismail has threatened to resign and join Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), reported The Star.

 

Razak, who is upset with the Anwar family for allowing Dr Mahathir to take over, is said to be planning to contest against PH under the PSM ticket in the upcoming general election.

The theme of this Sunday's meeting is "Otai Refomis di simpangan" (Otai Reformis at the crossroads) and Saari said he may also offer to resign if the members feel that the group has lost its way.

Many of the group's members were detained by the Malaysian authorities in the security crackdown that ensued following the sacking of Anwar in 1998. Saari himself was twice held under the Internal Security Act during Dr Mahathir's term as prime minister.

Saari said some in the group have accepted that PH has to cooperate with Dr Mahathir in order to take on the ruling Barisan Nasional.

But the hardliners see the move as a betrayal to their cause. They have demanded that Dr Mahathir apologise to Anwar, his family and the Otai Reformis group to show that he is sincere.

The Otai Reformis group was formed during the Reformasi protest movement triggered by Anwar's sacking. Members of the group had booed and jeered at Dr Mahathir when he addressed them at a convention in Shah Alam earlier this year.

Saari, who has been with Anwar since the 1970s, admitted that he also feels conflicted by the latest development.

"The story is not so beautiful if Anwar has to become PM only by cooperating with Mahathir. I support the leadership but I hope we will not be cheated again," he told The Star.

Dr Mahathir was made chairman of PH last week, and while it had not been immediately clear if he was the most senior leader in the hierarchy, the former prime minister on Tuesday (July 18) declared himself its "top dog, reported Malay Mail.

The 92-year-old has also positioned himself as the most likely candidate to be PH's prime minister if it wins federal power, while promising to facilitate Anwar's release and possibly elevation to the position later.