Thursday, March 10, 2016

For some Pakatan supporters, working with Dr Mahathir still a big no

The Malay adage, "jilat balik ludah" (which literally means licking up one's own spit) is how many activists and members of Pakatan Harapan parties describe the March 4 Citizens' Declaration. Pakatan insiders warn that this could prevent more support for the movement led by former Umno strongman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to pressure Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to resign. Even with Dr Mahathir's presence, the declaration is unlikely to get much backing from within Umno, and as such support from ordinary Pakatan members is crucial. Insiders say many opposition supporters are unhappy that their leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr Mahathir to sign the declaration. "Many of the activists, especially from the reformasi era, remember getting tear-gassed and roughed up by police at the rallies during Mahathir's time," said an opposition party member. "They are really angry with Dr Mahathir and all that he did," said the former reformasi activist during the late 1990s. Selangor DAP leader Edry Faizal Eddy Yusof, who came into the picture after the 2008 "political tsunami", is also upset. "These people know and realise that the country's problems all begin with Mahathir and they could not stomach seeing their leaders simply supporting him," said Edry (pic, right), one of DAP's vibrant under-30 activists. Dr Mahathir's March 4 event was attended among others by opposition stalwarts such as Amanah president Mohamad Sabu, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and PKR vice-president Tian Chua, all three of whom had been imprisoned at different times during Dr Mahathir's 22-year reign. Edry does not see this criticism from his own members as an obstacle, but an important check-and-balance, ensuring those from among Pakatan who signed the declaration do not get used by Dr Mahathir. "Because, really, the man is sleek. So we need to make sure we do not get taken for a ride," he said. The Anwar demand Much of the initial anger, however, has been soothed, said another source in the opposition coalition, after Dr Mahathir's long-time nemesis and one-time protege, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, came out to support the initiative. "After all, if Anwar can say he supports it, then why can't everyone else?" Anwar was sacked by Dr Mahathir as deputy prime minister in September 1998 and after a highly controversial trial, jailed for six years. But just because opposition supporters are no longer angry does not automatically mean they will sign on to the declaration. "We want Anwar's release to be the first demand that is met. Only after that do we make Najib resign," said Saari Sungib, part of "Otai Reformasi" which gathers activists who led the charge to oust Dr Mahathir in the late 1990s. Saari (pic, left), now in his second term as a Selangor assemblyman, was jailed two years under the Internal Security Act on charges of trying to overthrow the government. He said he would only sign the declaration if Anwar's release was part of the declaration, a demand which would go a long way to convince sceptics of Dr Mahathir's commitment to institutional reforms. "Dr Mahathir cannot be trusted to implement these reforms but Anwar can. That's why he needs to be released and replace Najib." There are signs that Pakatan realises that such a demand is key to getting the buy-in they need. PKR Youth vice-chief Fahmi Fadzil (pic, right) said Pakatan was rolling out ceramah and gatherings to explain the Citizens' Declaration as well as to stress that releasing Anwar was part of any move to replace Najib. "I believe Pakatan Harapan leaders and all who are involved in the Citizens' Declaration effort must use the opportunity to engage with all constituencies, and especially the young and those who are very upset with the Najib administration." For those who support the declaration, such as Edry, it's not really the Pakatan leaders who have to take back their jibes at Dr Mahathir. "By signing up with people like Kit Siang, it's Dr Mahathir who is actually licking up his own spitball." – March 11, 2016.]]>

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