KUALA LUMPUR • A recent interview with The Straits Times in which Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar - the daughter of Malaysia's premier-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim - publicly criticised Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's administration has exposed a growing fissure among members of the ruling coalition.
The Malay Mail daily, citing experts interviewed, said Ms Izzah's blunt criticism of Tun Dr Mahathir was the clearest sign of a power struggle between his faction and Datuk Seri Anwar's faction over the prime ministership, even though both leaders appear supportive of each other in public.
If left unaddressed, the infighting could culminate in the pro-Mahathir faction refusing to back Mr Anwar to be prime minister, thus triggering a political crisis, said an analyst.
"The big impact is you may not be able to see Anwar Ibrahim as the next PM, because the next PM has to be the one who receives the most support from the alliance and the people," Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political scientist Kartini Aboo Talib told the Malaysian daily. "Izzah reflects an Anwar who is in disagreement with Tun Mahathir - she is the symbol," Dr Kartini noted.
Dr Mahathir, whose five-year term ends in 2023, had originally promised to cede control to Mr Anwar in 2020. But he has in recent months become more coy about the handover.
Ms Izzah, a three-term MP, is the most prominent leader of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition to be critical of the new government. She said the coalition is too slow on reforms and that the patronage system that pervaded the former Barisan Nasional administration remains alive under the new leadership.
Her description of Dr Mahathir as "a former dictator" in the interview with The Straits Times only added fuel to the fire.
Although Ms Izzah did not name anyone in her allegations, her criticism is seemingly directed at Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia's acceptance of Umno defectors, said the Malay Mail.
Soon after the defections, Ms Izzah announced her resignation from all posts in the government and her father's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and that she would not seek re-election at the next general election, in a move seen as a protest against Dr Mahathir's leadership.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told the Malay Mail that Ms Izzah's exit could also indicate an underlying frustration with party colleagues, including her own father, for seemingly pandering to the Mahathir faction.
"(Her) continual rebellious antics should be viewed in the light of seeing her dad being too 'soft' in engaging Dr Mahathir's 'salvos'," said Dr Oh.
Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar of Universiti Malaya said Ms Izzah's outburst was likely an appeal for the PH leadership to respect its more progressive base.
"It underpins not only the tug of war in PKR between the pro-Anwar faction and those with reservations about him being prime minister, but also the irreconcilable ideological schism within PH," he told the Malay Mail.