KUALA LUMPUR: With names like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin being mentioned as potential Prime Minister candidates, a commentator from Singapore opined that this suggests Malaysia is facing a pressing problem of leadership renewal within the Opposition.
Writing in Singapore’s Channel News Asia, Dr Norshahril Saat, a fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, at the same time observed that the same problem is evident in Malaysia’s ruling party.
“The truth is that the Opposition remains divided about having Mahathir as prime minister again,” Dr Norshahril wrote, stating that while former Cabinet minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is in favour of Mahathir returning to office, PKR members are opposed to the suggestion.
Zaid who was formerly part of Umno as well as PKR later on, is now a member of DAP.
“During the last PKR convention in May, party members were united in proposing that Anwar Ibrahim become the next prime minister,” Dr Norshahril said.
On the younger generations within the Opposition, Dr Norshahril noted that not enough effort has been exercised to accelerate young leaders into important, grooming positions in the party.
“The towering presence of party stalwarts like DAP’s Lim Kit Siang Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang from PAS, both of whom have dominated Malaysia’s political scene since the 1980s, continue to stall the opposition’s renewal,” he said in observing that leadership renewal in the Opposition is in a more precarious state than Umno’s.
“The opposition may argue that disunity within their ranks has forced them to turn to these senior politicians for guidance.
“However, this may be counterproductive, because these old guards have been fighting one another for decades. Their quick reconciliation only suggests that pragmatism supersedes ideology, for now,” he said.
Dr Norshahril opined that it is now time for the Opposition to give their younger politicians more prominence in the next elections.
“Old guards should even consider stepping aside and not run, if there is appetite. In their campaigns, they should also clarify their parties’ succession plans for leadership renewal.”
The suggestion that Mahathir is to lead the Opposition coalition only reinforces the feelings by Malaysians who are tired of seeing the old guards fight one another on issues from the previous decade.
With regards to Umno, Dr Norshahril observed that the question remains on who will succeed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should the latter decide to step down.
Current deputy, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is 64 years old, Dr Norshahril noted, adding that the other potential candidate is Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is 55.
“Another of Umno’s rising star is Khairy Jamaluddin,” Dr Norshahril said, adding that the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been dubbed to be ideal prime minister.
“He is intelligent, popular and has a strong following among youths. The Youth and Sports Minister is an Oxford graduate, and is only 41 years old.
“But whether Khairy can make it to the top position in Umno, which automatically means becoming prime minister, depends on whether he can rally the divided party and bypass the old-guards,” he added.
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