Malaysia's opposition alliance gave mixed signals yesterday on who would be its prime ministerial candidate, pushing the announcement to Sunday when the four-party pact will hold its annual convention.
The presidential council of Pakatan Harapan (PH), comprising the most senior leaders of the alliance, held a three-hour meeting yesterday but did not name the person who would become Malaysia's seventh prime minister should it win in the national polls that are expected to be called within months.
The issue of PH's PM candidate has gripped Malaysian politics, amid expectations that 92-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad - who led the country for 22 years until 2003 - could become premier again should the opposition win federal power.
Just ahead of yesterday's meeting, opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim issued a statement from jail indicating that his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) had not made a decision on the matter.
He said PH's strength lies with "the voice of the people". "Therefore, it is appropriate for the tradition of consulting NGOs and activists to be maintained," he wrote.
On the other hand, Parti Amanah Negara's deputy president Salahuddin Ayub said PH cannot walk into the general election without naming its prime minister, a mistake it made in the 2013 polls that he said cost the opposition votes.
"PH should not repeat the mistake in PR (2013's opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat), where the three parties at that time did not come to a consensus and name Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister before contesting in the 13th general election," he told The Malaysian Insight news site.
The PH pact consists of pro-Malay Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by Dr Mahathir, Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), Anwar-led PKR, and Amanah - a moderate Islamic party.
The year-old PPBM wants Dr Mahathir to become prime minister again, based on his experience of leading Malaysia for 22 years.
Both the DAP and Amanah support this position, according to opposition politicians. But a section of PKR leaders are wary of Dr Mahathir as he carries too much political baggage from his 22 years in power. Others frown on the fact that PPBM, which has only one seat in Parliament and whose members joined the opposition just a year ago, is making demands without first proving its commitment to the opposition's reform agenda.
While Anwar is the overwhelming opposition favourite to be the next prime minister, he is behind bars for a sodomy offence. He cannot run for political office for five years after his release, unless the Malaysian King pardons him.
In PH's meeting last month, Dr Mahathir and PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar's wife, were proposed as prime minister and deputy prime minister.
But the proposal was not publicly announced because PKR said it wanted to discuss the matter first at the party level.