Opposition supporters are apparently divided over former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal that Pakatan Harapan undergo a rebranding after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia joins it. Mahathir has suggested that Pakatan adopt a new name and a common manifesto and symbol.
To some, the call confirms their suspicion that PPBM is merely a reskinned Umno and the inclusion of the party in a grand coalition will simply make it a version of Barisan Nasional, with Mahathir in control. After all, old habits die hard, especially the habits of a confessed dictator. Mahathir ruled for more than 20 years and is used to having his way.
Of course, this theory assumes that the other parties are willing to make way for Mahathir to ascend to the position of opposition leader and will unquestioningly give in to his dictates. Given PKR’s lack of direction, Amanah’s continuing search for a concrete identity and DAP’s poor appeal among rural Malays, it isn’t hard to imagine Mahathir leading the charge.
However, PPBM does not enter the coalition as the first among equals. It joins as yet another party despite the pedigree of its luminaries, and fittingly so. Mahathir & Co will have much work to do in convincing liberals, progressives, and moderates that PPBM is not Umno in sheep’s clothing. What good would it do to replace a government if it merely results in more of the same?
So the first order of business, should Pakatan accept PPBM into its fold, should be to come out with a concrete policy platform, one that looks at the specific laws and practices that must be reformed, mechanisms that must be reviewed and government agencies that must be revamped.
Although Mahathir’s proposals are still merely suggestions, Pakatan’s discussions around them are sure to be robust. Nevertheless, it is hoped that all the Pakatan parties recognise the suggestions as eminently reasonable.
Pundits have long pointed out the need for a uniform identity and platform for Pakatan Harapan, and the appearance of being united via a common symbol is a first step towards consolidating the coalition as an entity. With PAS poised to be a spoiler in the coming election, it is more important than ever to present a unified front. Certainly, only one candidate from the coalition should be fielded in every constituency.
Whether Mahathir’s agenda dominates the coalition platform is truly a problem for the three Pakatan parties to hash out on their own. There is little to suggest that Mahathir will get his way unquestioned, but perhaps ideas coming from a field-tested veteran of political battles will be beneficial in the long run.
Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.