Commentary Politics

You better believe it — Mahathir wants to be PM a third time

Despite how they are looking at each other here, Anwar and Mahathir seem to be made for each other, warts and all.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

June 16, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

LATEST news reports indicate that this political alliance called Pakatan Plus should be able to determine today who its candidate for prime minister will be after not being able to decide at its leadership plus meeting a week ago. “Leadership plus” because others in the lower echelon of their respective parties were also seen to be present in the room. But anyway….

According to insiders within PKR, the meeting agreed to postpone naming the candidate on the request of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim who told everyone via a press announcement on February 26 that the Pakatan Harapan presidential council the night before had nominated him after Mahathir Mohamad declined an invite to attend the meeting. A few days later Mahathir was to say that “Anwar was crazy for the PM’s post”.

What caused Anwar to ask to be given a week was an offer by Mahathir to be PM a third time. Yes, you read it right: Mahathir made it known to the meeting that he was prepared to be PM but only for six months, after which he would hand over to Anwar. A familiar story of course, of which the outcome from the first everyone now knows, because Mahathir’s failure to keep his promise of doing the same to allow Anwar to sit in the chair of his dream ever since he crossed over from being an activist very much against the government to being part of a ruling coalition in 1981 was partly to blame for the fall of the Pakatan government last February.

Mahathir trying to convince his allies he is a man of his words

This time Mahathir’s sweetener was that he merely wants to redeem himself, to prove to everyone that he is a man of his words. One insider noticed that Anwar looked sheepish and uneasy on hearing Mahathir’s offer, which if it eventuates, would mean a world record unlikely to ever being broken.

Within Pakatan Plus, which sounds new but in fact is similar to the old Pakatan minus Mahathir’s old party Pribumi Bersatu and has a “plus” to mean Mahathir, word is that the excitement is strongest for Mahathir from DAP and Amanah. The soundbite from the PKR boys outside of that meeting however is that Mahathir for them is a non-starter.

Anwar recently told an online news portal that he was cautiously confident Pakatan Plus would pick him as its candidate for PM, which when all things are considered sounds rather strange given that the same people were responsible for an announced on May 7 to officially name him Parliamentary opposition leader. It would be a massive blow to his ego if he were then not made the coalition’s PM candidate. Furthermore, despite the accolades about his influence still being poured onto Mahathir by some commentators, it’s hard to agree how a man who will be 95 years old a few weeks from now and one with only about five MPs with him and without a party at that would have much bargaining power. Perceived influence and power maybe but reality is different.

It would also be misplaced logic to think that the groundswell which propelled Pakatan to oust Barisan Nasional in the 2018 May 9 general elections will again be a factor in a Pakatan Plus attempt to unseat Perikatan Nasional from Putrajaya simply because the situation now is markedly different, whatever the feelings about Muhyiddin Yassin’s backdoor but constitutionally lawful government.

The Covid-19 pandemic, though a temporary respite, is one that puts public sentiments on Muhyiddin’s side, although sentiments alone will not help him thwart any attempt to dislodge his government via Parliament.

Snap polls will not favour Mahathir and he must know it

Mahathir too must know that all the narratives he has been telling Malaysia and the world about how Muhyiddin became PM means almost nothing in the wider scheme of things. Either he gets Muhyiddin out by having majority support in Parliament or he does it via the ballot box but the latter is Muhyiddin’s call to make.

Signs are that Mahathir favours the first option, although making sure that support from some MPs remains firm is a big ask which he himself has alluded to. And based on public sentiments since GE14 just over two years ago Mahathir knows that his chances in another election are not like what they were on May 9, 2018.

Muhyiddin now thus has also the same options and if he can’t be absolutely certain of sufficient support by the time Parliament reconvenes in July, his best bet would be to advise the Agong to dissolve Parliament to make way for snap polls.

But he may find a favour from a most unlikely party even before he has to start thinking of which option to take.

Regardless whether he still has the energy and mental capacity to carry on, a decision by Pakatan Plus to name Anwar as its PM candidate should slowly ease Mahathir out of the reckoning for the position a world record third time. Still being a feature in politics but without holding the top office in the land isn’t what Mahathir thinks he is destined for.

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.