Malaysians at Perth forum grill PKR leaders on race, leadership

Dr Afif Bahardin

(The Malaysian Insider) – Questions over opposition solidarity, leadership and race politics taunted PKR and the new Pakatan Harapan coalition at a forum in Perth, Australia, last week.

Ironically, the taunts and jibes from the audience of Malaysian students and residents as well as expatriates came from the converted – people who had lost faith in Barisan Nasional (BN) and who had already supported electoral reforms group Bersih 2.0, while hoping the opposition somehow would bring change.

PKR central committee member, Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon and deputy youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin (pic), both on a five-day visit to Perth, fronted the forum to discuss reforming Malaysia’s political system.

The session proved to be a tame affair until question time in the second hour, when Rashid, who is Penang deputy chief minister I, and Afif, a Penang state exco, faced a fiery onslaught.

Social activist Amran Ariffin, who migrated to Perth ten months ago, said PKR and its opposition coalition should be embarrassed that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was now the “real opposition leader” in Malaysia.

“Umno is at its weakest, and you can’t even govern, you should be embarrassed,” he said. “Do you think with the current crop of leaders you have, is there any future for Malaysia?

“With an opposition coalition modelled along racial lines, you are aping Umno and hoping to beat them at their own game. This is a perfect time to have a party that cuts across racial lines and represents all Malaysians.”

Murdoch University research fellow Dr Greg Lopez said foreign governments were wary of the opposition coalition because it was “unreliable”.

“Why trust somebody who can’t even hold a coalition together. We know Barisan Nasional is terrible, but give us a reason why we should support you,” Lopez said.

Dr Afif conceded the opposition was fractured.

“If we could have stayed as one strong force, more demands could be put on the table. A stronger coalition will definitely pressure Najib and BN to accommodate, for example, the release of Anwar Ibrahim,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the jailed former opposition leader.

He insisted that he and his party saw multiracial politics as the future for Malaysia and believed the country needed “a versatile leader who is able to articulate and understand the plight of every single Malaysian, regardless of their background”.

“Coalition politics in Malaysia is not mature… Malaysia is not ready because we do not have free, fair elections and we do not have a free media.

“Democracy in Australia is mature, the rule of law is upheld. We do not have this in Malaysia.”