Malaysia Votes 2018

Malaysia election: Mahathir calls for change at Reformasi rally site

Left: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad acknowledging the crowd of supporters at the mega "ceramah" or rally in Hulu Kelang, Selangor, yesterday. Right: Prime Minister Najib Razak greeting supporters during his campaigning in his constituency Pekan, in Pahang,
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad acknowledging the crowd of supporters at the mega "ceramah" or rally in Hulu Kelang, Selangor, yesterday. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Left: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad acknowledging the crowd of supporters at the mega "ceramah" or rally in Hulu Kelang, Selangor, yesterday. Right: Prime Minister Najib Razak greeting supporters during his campaigning in his constituency Pekan, in Pahang,
Prime Minister Najib Razak greeting supporters during his campaigning in his constituency Pekan, in Pahang, yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-PM leads opposition's rallying cry from football pitch in Malay enclave of Keramat

Two decades ago, chants of "Reformasi" rang out in the Malay enclave of Keramat on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Back then, it was directed at then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who faced public anger for his decision to sack his charismatic deputy Anwar Ibrahim.

Last night, on the same football pitch, it was Tun Dr Mahathir's turn to lead the call for change on behalf of his nemesis-turned-ally Anwar, this time against the administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

 

"This time, we have hope to topple the government because the opposition is united and supported by many people," he told the thousands who had gathered for opposition pact Pakatan Harapan's (PH) final major rally - dubbed the "People's Tsunami" - before 15 million Malaysians head to the ballot box on Wednesday.

Since Dr Mahathir left Umno - the Malay party that leads ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) - to form his opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in 2016 that later joined forces with PH, Barisan has repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of the opposition, which used to vilify the 92-year-old leader and his rule.

On their end, opposition leaders have repeatedly insisted that they have set aside their differences to unite against a common foe - Datuk Seri Najib. Still, the irony was not lost on the people in Gombak ward last night.

Retired businessman David Foong, 62, has been a staunch supporter of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is today in PH, for the last 40 years and recalls railing against Dr Mahathir when he jailed the party's leaders in 1987.

But he is pragmatic about the former premier's role in the opposition today. "He has repented and we need him to remove the current guy. He is the only one who can help us now," he said.

Student Zul Hakim, 23, was too young to take part in Reformasi rallies 20 years ago but he has grown up in the area and is familiar with the history of the movement. He said of Dr Mahathir: "Not every PM gets a second chance to look at what he has done and correct it."

 
 

Dr Mahathir is PH's candidate for prime minister if the coalition wins a majority of the 222 seats in Parliament on May 9. He has agreed to hand over the position to Anwar, after the latter is released from prison on June 8 and receives a royal pardon that will allow him to contest in, and win, a by-election.

The opposition has also banked on Dr Mahathir's star power, with many flocking to rallies to catch a glimpse of a leader they had held in awe during his 22 years at the helm.

Mr Najib, often linked to the state fund 1MDB scandal despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the Malaysian authorities, has countered this rose-tinted nostalgia by pointing out Dr Mahathir's own share of financial scandals. He has also said that Dr Mahathir, at his advanced age, does not reflect the future of the country.

"Don't tell me we must live in such nostalgia when we have many plans to move forward to drive success and lift Malaysia's prestige to the level of developed countries," he said in Kepala Batas, Penang, on Saturday, according to national news agency Bernama.

Dr Mahathir may have headlined last night but it was not a one-man show. A string of PH top brass that included Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali roused the crowd with promises to wrest Putrajaya.

Also at the rally was former Umno veteran Rafidah Aziz, who said: "The contract to manage Malaysia needs to be switched to a new company."

Referring to Dr Mahathir, she added: "This new management boss has a seasoned track record."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir calls for change at Reformasi rally site'. Print Edition | Subscribe