KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition bloc has been unable to come to a consensus in selecting their prime ministerial candidate, as a self-imposed deadline for an agreement passed on Tuesday (June 16), with the bloc saying that discussions are still ongoing.
The opposition - which consists of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, Parti Warisan Sabah and several members of Parliament aligned to former premier Mahathir Mohamad - had been trying to arrive at a consensus on their leader ahead of a scheduled Parliament sitting in July, where Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's majority is expected to be tested.
But a meeting between the opposition's key leaders, including Tun Dr Mahathir and his former deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who leads the Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties, did not take place as scheduled on Tuesday.
When PH was in power for 21 months until end-February, the push by Mr Anwar for then Premier Mahathir to quickly pass the prime ministership to him was one of reasons that led to the coalition's undoing.
Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, a senior minister in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government that replaced PH, on Wednesday took a sharp dig at his rivals: "Until today, the issue of who will become the PM has yet to be decided on.
"The last three months, no one asked who is the PM (in PN). It has been a peaceful three months.
"If Pakatan enters again, that will be the discussion every day... Enough is enough. Let us decide to give our service to the people."
Mr Anwar claimed on Wednesday that PH has made a decision in the matter, but had yet to refer the matter to Dr Mahathir and Sabah's Warisan for a broader consensus.
"PH has made a decision, but we need to refer it to our friends in Warisan and those aligned to Dr Mahathir," Mr Anwar, 72, said in a video statement.
However, his statement was later contradicted by a senior leader in the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a member of the PH coalition, who claimed that Mr Anwar and his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) faction have yet to decide on a proposal that was already agreed to by the rest of the opposition bloc, including PKR's PH partners.
In an interview with online news Malaysiakini, DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke said the rest of the opposition bloc except for PKR last week agreed to name Dr Mahathir as their candidate for prime minister and Mr Anwar as the deputy.
"After that decision, we decided it is now Anwar's call whether he agrees or not. The deadline was supposed to be yesterday (Tuesday). So far, we have not heard any decision from Anwar," Mr Loke was quoted as saying.
The failure to reach an agreement by midnight on Tuesday reflected the deep division among opposition MPs on whether to announce Dr Mahathir, a two-time premier, as their prime minister candidate.
Mr Anwar's supporters said that they rejected the proposal to have Dr Mahathir, 94, return as the alliance's top candidate.
Mr Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid, an MP from Mr Anwar's PKR party, claimed that his party had rejected Dr Mahathir during a party leadership meeting on Monday.
"I think we rather prefer to be in the opposition rather than this deal," he was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper.
PH led by Dr Mahathir won federal power in 2018, with a promise of a mid-term handover of power to Mr Anwar, who was in prison during the 2018 general election and was unable to contest.
But Dr Mahathir shockingly resigned as prime minister in February, with defections by some 40 MPs from PH leading to the formation of the PN government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin and scuppering the transition.
Analysts say that the fluid political situation in Malaysia and power dynamics between Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar means a decision of the bloc's leadership has to be made soon.
"It is a race against time, because Perikatan Nasional is also trying to pinch people (MPs) from PH," said Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
PM Muhyiddin has the backing of around 113 MPs in the 222-member Parliament.
PH has the backing of 107 members, Mr Anwar said last week.
Both sides have had members switch allegiances in recent weeks in a see-saw battle for Parliament majority.
Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, an analyst from Universiti Utara Malaysia, said that the power dynamics between Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar means a decision must be made sooner rather than later.
"It is better for them to announce as soon as possible, so they can be ready in the event elections are called early. It could be two months, it could be two years, but they have to be ready," Dr Mohd Azizuddin told The Straits Times.
He said both opposition leaders must reach a compromise for the bloc to move forward, and said that the leadership structure agreed on should be ready to face possible snap elections.