Pundits: Anwar taking back seat can pave way for younger PM candidate

According to an expert, younger leaders like Datuk Seri Azmin Ali (pic) and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, if appointed as the prime minister, would significantly differentiate the Opposition from BN. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 ― Young Opposition supporters may welcome Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s withdrawal as Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for prime minister, political analysts said.

The analysts said the message by the 69-year-old jailed PKR de facto leader could open the way for other leaders, especially the younger ones, to helm the position.

Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian said Anwar could also be telling off his former nemesis, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is now chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), that “it was time for the young blood to take charge”.

The 91-year-old former prime minister had previously expressed his readiness to be Pakatan Harapan’s prime minister, although with a caveat that the decision should be unanimous among its member parties ― PPBM, PKR, the DAP and Parti Amanah Negara.         

“I think it sends a signal that older leaders like Dr M probably shouldn't offer themselves as PM as well.

“Instead, pave the way for [the] next generation to take the lead in this election,” Ibrahim told Malay Mail Online.

Ideally, he said, younger leaders such as 52-year-old PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and 52-year-old PPBM deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, if appointed as the prime minister, would significantly differentiate the Opposition from Barisan Nasional (BN).

“This would energise the electorate and attract younger voters, allowing the Opposition to emulate the (France President Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric) Macron or (Canada Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau effect.

Macron, 39, was elected last month as France’s youngest ever president, while Trudeau became Canada’s second youngest prime minister at age 43 when the Liberal party won the 2015 federal election.

Oh Ei Sun, adjunct senior fellow at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said people who want to see Pakatan come to power do not mind who becomes the prime minister.

“They (voters) are driven by one single goal ― to topple Umno and BN, as in their minds nothing can be worse than Umno and BN,” he said when contacted.

If it came down to deciding now and if the candidate must come from PKR, Oh said it should be Azmin.

Oh pointed that the Selangor mentri besar was an experienced leader and that it would be an easy transition from his current position to prime minister.

“You need to look at the broader context of the reality of politics in developing countries, which involves not only ideological clashes as in developed countries, but mainly ‘smart’ reallocation of ‘resources’, and it would appear that at the moment Azmin, among all his colleagues, would be most capable in handling such political necessities,” he said.

Universiti Sarawak Malaysia’s associate professor Jeniri Amir also had similar opinions as Ibrahim and Oh about interpreting Anwar’s statement as a sign to allow a younger leader to take charge. 

However, he did not name a specific leader to head the post, besides saying that the Opposition will need to decide on that based on the number of seats won by each component party.

“There are many young leaders and it should go beyond Anwar and Dr M. It is hard to tell now who should be the PM as there are many young and capable leaders in all component parties.

“Besides, at the end of the day, it boils down to which component has the most number of seats in the coalition and who they decide to name as PM thereafter,” he said.

On Saturday, Anwar said he would not offer himself to become Pakatan Harapan's candidate for prime minister, even as Opposition leaders continue to endorse him as “the country’s seventh prime minister”.

He said debates around the issue was “tiring” as such a decision should be in the hands of voters.