KUALA LUMPUR: The formal registration of Malaysia's opposition coalition is allegedly being held up by disagreements over the role of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on Monday (Jun 19), Dr Mahathir said: "Unfortunately in the informal meetings (between) the leaders of the party, the question of calling the head person 'chairman' or some other name cropped up.
"Some people are against the word chairman being given if I hold that position. If somebody else holds (the position) it's alright, but not me,” he said.
"There was some ridiculous suggestion it should be called executive advisor," Dr Mahathir added. "It is a contradiction in terms. You can't be an executive and an advisor. But these are the things which have held up our meetings."
To achieve the common goal of defeating current Prime Minister Najib Razak in the next general election, Dr Mahathir's party - Malaysian United Indigneous Party (PPBM) - has entered an alliance with jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice Party (PKR), the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (PAN).
The new coalition – Pakatan Harapan – is looking to register with the Registrar of Societies in order to contest the next elections as a formal alliance. Malaysia is due to hold a general election by August 2018.
However, details such as the leadership structure need to be sorted out first.
Dr Mahathir said that given his Malay-based PPBM party would be in the best position to win over UMNO and PAS voters, it was initially proposed that he be appointed chairman of the coalition while his party's president and former deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin be president of Pakatan Harapan. However, the suggestion was rejected by the alliance.
Another proposal was later made for Dr Mahathir to be chairman, PKR’s president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to be president while her husband, Anwar Ibrahim, would be appointed the coalition’s advisor.
'DISTRUST' FROM PKR
Anwar is serving out a five-year sentence in prison over a sodomy conviction he maintains was politically motivated. He was first sent to jail in 1999 over corruption charges which he blamed on Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister then.
This may have added to PKR's distrust over Dr Mahathir's leadership, even though the veteran politician said he has put the past behind him and both he and Anwar now share a similar objective - to defeat the ruling coalition.
"(I think some of them) worry, they distrust," said Dr Mahathir. "They feel I'm stealing the show, hijacking the party - this kind of thinking."
He added: "They find it difficult even to decide on the name for me. I'm not asking to lead or anything like that, but it is them who requested.
"I offered to back down. I said I will have no role at all except that (when) you ask me to give talks."
In a statement on Saturday from prison, Anwar called on the coalition to focus on winning polls and "benefit from the position and role of Mahathir".
Anwar said: "In hopes of amassing all strengths in a team to go against UMNO-BN, it is fair to ensure the participation of all leaders effectively."
MAHATHIR FOR PM?
In the same statement, Anwar withdrew himself from the running for Malaysia's next prime minister should the opposition win "in order to call for a focus on the general election".
Questions over who would be the opposition’s representative for prime minister has divided the coalition as well with some in PKR wanting Anwar to be the country's seventh prime minister - even though he is disqualified from political office and will be in prison until at least mid-2018.
Dr Mahathir, who resigned as PM after 22 years in office, said he personally does not want to be prime minister but noted that people respond to him “for whatever reason".
"If, in the end, nobody comes forward, nobody agrees to any candidate and they point out to me, it'll be churlish of me, just because I want to retire and rest and all that, not to respond to them," he said.
"If there are no more candidates and if all the parties in the coalition agree I should be a part time, interim prime minister, I'll come back."
Dr Mahathir also said that he has a desire to “participate in the restructuring of the nation” and to “undo most of the things that (Najib) has done”.
"I admit I have some ideas about how to do that," he said.
But Dr Mahathir noted that he must still consider the other parties in the coalition. "We'll sit down and find out who is most eligible. It is not for me to dictate," he said.
"I have never dictated even in UMNO, but it is hard for people to believe this."