Pakatan Harapan won't be one-term government, says Mahathir Mohamad

KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ANN) - By-election losses do not mean it will lose office in next polls, he says in response to news report

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan's (PH) recent losses in by-elections do not indicate the four-party pact would lose the next general election.

"I do not think that Pakatan Harapan would be a one-term government," Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters on the resort island of Langkawi yesterday.

"We lost in several by-elections. It does not mean we would lose the general election," he said.

He was responding to a report by Reuters news agency yesterday citing his remarks as meaning that PH would no longer hold power by the next election.

Reuters reported that Dr Mahathir had cautioned that the coalition would lose power if the pact's leaders fail to change their ways.

PH has lost five out of 10 by-elections held since May 2018, when it wrested power from Barisan Nasional (BN), marking the country's first change of government in its six-decade history.

PH candidates lost in four of the last five by-elections held last year and this year, including a drubbing in the Tanjung Piai ballot in Johor in November, when the opposition BN won by a whopping 15,000-plus votes.

And PH ally Parti Warisan Sabah lost the Kimanis by-election in Sabah last weekend by a wider majority than the 2018 record. Its loss in this Sabah parliamentary seat was attributed to poor communication in explaining to voters about a controversial migrant pass it is planning to push through that locals feared would pave the way for illegals to gain citizenship.

The election losses came amid a sharp drop in public support for the 20-month-old PH government, with complaints over its failure to arrest the rising cost of living, incessant race-baiting issues that raised racial tensions, and constant bickering within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the biggest PH component party. There are also tensions within PH, with a push by some PKR leaders for Dr Mahathir to quickly step down and be replaced by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

Dr Mahathir said the current government has a tougher job than the previous administrations, since it has to do "clean-up" work after 61 years of rule by the Umno-led BN.

"We have to clean up the administration, find money and pay debts… But PH is now well known as not good at communicating," lamented the 94-year old Prime Minister.

In a sign of frustration at increasing criticisms over the PH government's performance, Dr Mahathir hinted that the electorate is hard to please, with voters who are easily swayed.

"We have reached a stage now when people would kiss the hand of a thief and call him 'Bossku'," he said, referencing former premier Najib Razak, who has rebranded himself since the 2018 elections and gained supporters with the "Bossku" (MyBoss) tag line.

Najib is on trial over money-laundering and corruption charges involving billions of dollars from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, but has been actively campaigning against PH at by-elections and on his Facebook account.

"It looks like if Bossku steals money, people are okay with that. I do not understand how people can be influenced by someone who is facing trial for cheating, stealing money," Dr Mahathir added.

"If these people want him to come back (into government), then go ahead, vote for him at the 15th general election but do not expect PH to return and correct wrongs again," he said.

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