SINGAPORE: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday (Aug 12) unveiled the name of his political party as Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang), which means warriors of the homeland.
The party, which has yet to be registered with The Registrar of Societies (ROS), is focused on fighting corruption and defending the rights of the Malays and bumiputras, he said.
Dr Mahathir, 95, founded the new party after the High Court dismissed a lawsuit he brought against Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) - which he had founded in 2016, for revoking his membership.
In May, the Bersatu memberships for five federal lawmakers, including Dr Mahathir, were ceased after they acted against the party's constitution when they sat with the opposition bloc during the parliamentary sitting on May 18, and not with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by Mr Muhyiddin Yassin.
When Dr Mahathir announced his intention to form the party last Friday, he was alongside four other federal lawmakers, his son Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, Dr Maszlee Malik, Mr Amiruddin Hamzah and Mr Shahruddin Salleh. Bersatu’s former secretary-general Marzuki Yahya was also present.
Since then Bersatu grassroots members in areas such as Langkawi and Kubang Pasu are said to have quit the party to join Dr Mahathir’s party. Dr Mahathir and Mr Amiruddin are MPs for Langkawi and Kubang Pasu respectively.
Here’s what we know about Malaysia’s newest political party so far:
WHAT THE PARTY STANDS FOR
Political observers said that the party name is in line with Dr Mahathir’s ideology and objectives.
“Pejuang means a warrior, or fighter,” said Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
“I think the party name is of course an expression of Dr Mahathir's intention to soldier on. Despite his age, he is still very determined to make a political comeback in the Malaysian political scene,” he added.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha Mohamed from Universiti Utara Malaysia noted that Pejuang’s ideals are similar to the principles of Bersatu, which Dr Mahathir founded it in 2016.
“The ideology to fight corruption, to make sure there is a clean government, to make sure Malays interest are protected, all these are the same,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
However, Dr Oh and Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha questioned whether Pejuang would be able to make an impact, especially since it has neither officially aligned with PN nor Pakatan Harapan (PH).
“If Pejuang don’t take sides, it will be very difficult for the party to hold on to seats. Perhaps other than Mahathir and his son Mukhriz, the rest might lose their seats,” Dr Oh said.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha added that Pejuang could struggle because it does not have strong grassroots in many areas, unlike Bersatu or its PN ally the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
“This party does not have a strong grassroots. For a new party to make an impact, it needs strong support at the grassroots level,” he said.
He added that Dr Mahathir has maintained that he wants to work with PH, but has hinted at issues with Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim.
“The stumbling block for Pejuang to align themselves with PH is the Anwar - Mahathir relationship. The two leaders have been criticising and chiding one another so PKR won’t have a good relationship with Pejuang.”
PEJUANG LIKELY TO BE REGISTERED OFFICIALLY BUT TIMING COULD BE AN ISSUE
When announcing that he would form a new party last week, Dr Mahathir did not appear entirely confident that the ROS would accept his party’s registration.
“We expect to have problem with registration. We hope that the government is brave enough to register (us) … they are so frightened of us that the only way they can fight us is to try and buy everyone of us,” he said, noting that Bersatu was suddenly deregistered before the 2018 General Election.
However, analysts said that Dr Mahathir is unlikely to have any issues registering Pejuang as a party with the ROS. The question is how long this will take.
There have been calls from both sides of the political divide for Mr Muhyiddin to hold snap polls, as questions linger over whether he is able to govern effectively with a slim parliamentary majority.
Prof James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, told CNA: “I don’t think Dr Mahathir will have any problems getting the party registered, it’s a question of timing. He has to make sure the party is registered before the next general election.”
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha also said: “The process of registering is a long and tedious process. I’m sure ROS won’t stop the party from being formed, just that it will take some time.”
On Thursday, ROS said in a statement that it has yet to receive the party's registration papers.
WHAT’S AT STAKE IN THE UPCOMING SLIM BY-ELECTION?
Dr Mahathir’s new party has wasted no time. For the upcoming by-election for the Slim state seat, it is fielding Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi.
As Pejuang has yet to be registered, Mr Amir, a 38-year-old lawyer, will need to campaign as an independent.
The Slim seat in Perak fell vacant after UMNO assemblyman Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib died from a heart attack on Jul 15.
Barisan Nasional's (BN) candidate is Mohd Zaidi Aziz, a native of Slim River who is also the acting Tanjung Malim UMNO chief.
Much is at stake in the contest, which is slated to be held on Aug 29. The seat has been a traditional stronghold for UMNO and Pejuang will need to perform credibly to get off to a good start.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha noted that historically, the support for UMNO has been strong in Slim.
BN’s Mohd Khusairi had won each of his four last election contests by garnering at least 8,000 votes, he said.
Meanwhile, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, who is in PN, has won around 4,000 seats over the last four polls. This means that Mr Mohd Zaidi may be able to bank on around 12,000 out of a total of around 23,000 voters.
“The UMNO candidate can easily win. Even though Dr Mahathir has placed support behind the independent candidate, it won’t be enough to cause an upset,” Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha predicted.