In all the frenzy and talk about the anticipated transition of power from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to his named successor, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, one key person is often overlooked by critics, observers and analysts.
As Dr Mahathir counts down his days in Putrajaya, it is not hard to see that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is understandably preparing for her exit too.
When Anwar takes over the premiership, who will be his deputy? What will become of the country’s first female deputy prime minister, who is also women, family and community development minister?
The Pakatan Harapan presidential council meeting this Friday, according to Anwar, is expected to finalise the power transition details.
As Dr Mahathir finds out how much time he has left in Putrajaya, a decision would also have to be made about Dr Wan Azizah’s position in the new cabinet.
For now, it seems that her future has been determined.
Sources in PKR revealed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has been suggested as the choice for the deputy prime minister position.
Muhyiddin was deputy prime minister from 2009 until he was unceremoniously axed from former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s cabinet in 2015.
Another PKR insider told the New Sunday Times that it was not immediately known if Anwar already had a list of names of the people he wished to include in his cabinet.
“He did say before, that he has to take over (the premiership) first and then only he will see if there is a need to reshuffle the cabinet.
“Maybe he has a list of names, but I remember he once said that he would have to review the performance of all ministers before he can make any decision.
“As for his deputy (prime minister), it looks like it’s going to be Muhyiddin. But I can’t say for sure,” the source said.
Another source said Anwar was likely to emulate Dr Mahathir (who made history by appointing the first woman deputy prime minister) by creating another milestone for the country’s political landscape.
“There is a rumour going around that we might see the first non-Bumiputera as our deputy prime minister. If this happens, another historic occasion will be created.
“But other issues will also crop up — at what cost? I guess we’ll find out when Sabahans and Sarawakians speak up,” the source said.
For the record, there has never been a deputy prime minister from Sabah or Sarawak.
And what has Dr Wan Azizah said about this?
She had made it clear that she would step down to make way for her husband to assume the premiership.
However, it remained unclear if this would happen before or after Anwar, who is Port Dickson member of parliament, is sworn in as prime minister.
Article 43 of the constitution makes no mention of a situation where a sitting prime minister and his deputy are husband and wife.
Lawyer Haniff Khatri said it was not legally wrong for Anwar and Dr Wan Azizah to be in cabinet at the same time.
“There is nothing specific in the constitution prohibiting members of a family from being in the cabinet together.
“Therefore, it is up to the ruling party to make that decision if they think the people can accept it,” he said.
The legal issue is out of the way, but a moral dilemma remains: is that the right thing to do?
This can be argued from many standpoints, but what matters is that everything is done according to the rule of law.
The idea of seeing a husband and wife sitting side by side in office may be far-fetched, but not impossible.
Political analyst Professor Dr Sivamurugan Pandian believed that Malaysians would not be able to accept such a scenario.
He said an element in PH’s manifesto promised a government that was free from nepotism.
“In our political culture, that will be considered as morally unfit. I don’t think Malaysians can accept it.”
He said Dr Wan Azizah might have set a date for her departure, if she took a leaf out of Dr Mahathir’s book.
“Anwar’s supporters have been pressing for the day when Dr Mahathir will resign. It is only fair that the same question be directed to Dr Wan Azizah. If Dr Mahathir has to set a date, so does she.”
Dr Wan Azizah surely knows the answer and her conscience is clear. – NST