There was a lot of excitement among pro-opposition pundits when former PM Mahathir Mohamad announced last month that he was setting up a new party. Many saw it as a major step forward in the fight against the Najib regime.
However, the news that the party will be another Bumi-only party has taken the wind out of the sails somewhat. The worry is that it will merely be a ship for Umno’s castaways and defectors to jump on to whether or not they subscribe to reformist principles.
Mahathir faces the challenge of legitimising this party in the eyes of both the Malay voters disaffected by BN and the opposition supporters who look upon him with justifiable suspicion.
The challenge does not end there. The enthroning of Muhyiddin Yassin as the party’s president and its candidate for Prime Minister presents another problem. He has acquired the image of an unwilling contender and he hasn’t exactly been a unifying figure since his sacking from Umno.
Muhyiddin will have to project more dynamism if the party hopes to capture the imagination of the opposition masses. His penchant for whining over his unceremonious sacking has irked those who were waiting to see the emergence of a champion.
This new party cannot be Umno 3.0. It has to represent a clear break from the legacy instituted by Mahathir himself in Umno Baru. If it is to spearhead the opposition campaign for GE14, it has to disown Umno politics, Umno rhetoric and the Umno mentality.
Mahathir probably knows this, but perhaps he thinks that the only way to win a general election is to sway the Malays to a party that maintains the character of the pre-Najib Umno.
Nevertheless, it is still too early to tell what exactly the new party is all about. Perhaps the old doctor still has one last great operation to perform.