August 31, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections – A commentary by Aziz Hassan
WHILE it sounded like a perfectly normal statement on the current composition of the Cabinet, it was the clearest indication yet of how Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is treating this succession issue and the answer is that it is no big deal to him, which means he’ll stay on for as long as he thinks is necessary.
That would mean a longer wait for the man who thinks he will undoubtedly get the job, without realising there will be obstacles to navigate. The longer the wait, the harder it gets for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose hardline supporters began referring to as PM8 even months ago, despite the absence of any clear-cut indication that indeed Mahathir would hand over the post to him.
When asked recently if he was going to include Anwar in his Cabinet, Mahathir simply said there was no vacancy to slot him into.
That of course is another way of saying “I don’t need him” because the prime minister has absolute power to determine how big his Cabinet should be and who should stay and who should go. If he wants Anwar, all Mahathir needs to do is to give his former deputy of many years ago a chair. Another minister in the PM’s Department should not be a big deal, with or without a specific portfolio.
Anwar, no one offers himself to be in the Cabinet…..
And in trying to impress everyone that he is not hungry for the job or to hide his true ambitions, Anwar said he had never offered himself to be a member of the Cabinet and would take over the premiership when the time was right.
“Thank you, I’ve never offered myself to be a member of the Cabinet… the signed consensus within Pakatan Harapan was that Mahathir would be the prime minister and Dr Wan Azizah his deputy until it is my turn to become the prime minister, ” said Anwar after chairing a meeting of the parliamentary caucus on reforms and governance.
What a joke, the funniest we have heard in Malaysian politics in a long time.
Again, because a Cabinet appointment is the sole prerogative of the PM, there is no need for anyone to offer himself to be appointed. As best as is known, no one has ever done so since Merdeka, at least publicly, because that’s not how it works.
Those supportive of Anwar must feel for him.
When Mahathir eventually got him out of office as the DPM in 1998, talk was that Mahathir decided to act because Anwar was being too pushy in pursuit of his ambition for higher office, to the point of preparing to oust Mahathir.
The late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail aka Pak Samad had a story about how Anwar’s boys felt impatient and wanted their man to be the boss. When Anwar was removed, Pak Samad was to remind the same group of supporters about his advice for them to be patient – “What did I tell you?”
The most crucial difference between then and now is that so long as Mahathir is in office, Anwar is entirely at Mahathir’s mercy, and leaving fate aside, it is only Mahathir who will make that first step to decide who should succeed him and for now it doesn’t look like Anwar is his preferred choice, whatever the agreement within the Pakatan Harapan top echelon.
Step onto Mahathir’s toes and expect to pay the price
One Pakatan man who recently got on the wrong side of Mahathir was Datuk Dr. Rais Hussin, one of the authors of the Pakatan general election manifesto. Rais has often been referred to as Pribumi Bersatu’s chief strategist. At one forum Rais speculated that Pakatan would lose power if an election was held tomorrow, which didn’t go down well with Mahathir, as usual.
As he had with other similar views, Mahathir brushed off this one too and went a step further to quip that his party doesn’t have such an appointee. Rais was to react immediately to say that he had always signed off as the party’s head of policy and strategy, as per his appointment at a party meeting. If this was true, the strange thing was that Rais had never seen fit to correct the press, maybe because he enjoyed being called chief strategist. What Rais will learn though is that you don’t step onto Mahathir’s toes and expect to get away with it.
Rais was not the first amongst those in Pakatan to talk about a gloomy future for Pakatan if the coalition continues to delay honouring its election pledges and fail to sort out the economic bread and butter issues affecting the lower income group but Mahathir is not going to take any of this as honest feedback and declared that Pakatan will still win the next election whenever it is held “because the people do not want Najib (former PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak) who has stolen money from the people”.
Maybe so, maybe not but the point is the issue is no longer about Najib. What Malaysians are looking at is whether Pakatan has been moving in the direction as outlined to them before GE14. If it hasn’t and still doesn’t by the time GE15 is due, it looks like they will dump Pakatan for anything else, and that could be to give an Umno-PAS alliance a chance. Who knows, because ultimately it’s about teaching Pakatan a lesson, the way Najib, Umno and Barisan Nasional were taught a lesson, and not to take voters for granted.
But for now Anwar can dream on while also contemplating on his options, of which there are only two – play along, buy some time and hope that Mahathir does keep his words or break away and try to unseat Mahathir the way he tried in 1998. What is certain is that neither seems to be an advantageous position.