Dennis Ignatius: Mahathir – Another Desperate Gambit

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An outlandish scheme that would enable Mahathir to use two small parties (his own and Warisan) with no more than 15 seats between them to call the shots in the 107 member Pakatan Harapan parliamentary caucus.

Dr Mahathir Mohammad has now come up with yet another hare-brained scheme in his unrelenting quest to bring down the backdoor government of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin while keeping Anwar Ibrahim, his old nemesis, at bay. His plan: Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal as prime minister with both Anwar and Mukhriz (Mahathir) as deputy prime ministers.

DAP and Amanah appear supportive of this new formula while PKR clearly has serious reservations, declining to even attend the June 25 meeting in which the proposal was discussed.

Mahathir hopes that by stepping aside it would put pressure on Anwar to compromise and accept Shafie as prime minister. It is an outlandish scheme that would enable Mahathir to use two small parties (his own and Warisan) with no more than 15 seats between them to call the shots in the 107 member Pakatan Harapan parliamentary caucus.

Shafie, however, does not enjoy any real support in the peninsula. Anwar may not be wildly popular, but he certainly commands more support than both Shafie and Mukhriz combined.  Shafie’s position in Sabah (where money talks even louder than in the Peninsula) is itself not all that secure.

Of course, a prime minister from East Malaysia could be a game changer if MPs from Sabah and Sarawak embrace the idea. Thus far, however, there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for the man or the idea; Sabah and Sarawak politicians, it must be remembered, also have huge personal egos and ambitions and are far from united.

What is important for Mahathir is finding someone he can control and manipulate. It has always been about imposing his will, his ideas, his plans for the nation. As he said recently, he will only agree to take a supporting role if the prime minister takes his advice. Perhaps he sees Shafie as someone who will take his advice.

Proposing Mukhriz as DPM is also a non-starter. His performance both at the federal level as well as at the state level has been at best lacklustre. During his two terms as Menteri Besar (first with UMNO and then with PPBM), he did next to nothing for the state. Many complained that he wasn’t even there a lot of the time. Under his leadership, Kedah became even more of a backwater than it was before. He has only made it this far by riding on his father’s coattails.

And this is the guy Mahathir is now positioning to helm the nation down the road. Having been disappointed by other leaders, perhaps he feels that only his son can be trusted to carry his already questionable legacy forward. If he succeeds, Mahathir would accomplish what no other politician in the world has aspired to do – establish a “gravocracy” – rule from the grave.

Interestingly, Mahathir continues to insist that appointing Mukhriz deputy prime minister is not nepotism despite reiterating , in a recent interview with Asia Times, that “when [he] was prime minister, [he] didn’t allow [his] sons to be involved in politics.” How he can say that with a straight face after appointing his son Menteri Besar of Kedah and then pushing for him to be deputy prime minister is astonishing; but then Mahathir has always created his own reality.

Mahathir also continues to spin different narratives to suit his purpose. He said, for example, that Anwar is not acceptable to the Malays because he heads a multiracial party (PKR). At one time, it was enough that the PM must be a Malay (the Malays are the majority after all); later, he insisted that only a Malay from an all-Malay party is acceptable. Of course, that very conveniently disqualified Anwar and left Mahathir as the only suitable candidate.

Having failed to “help” Anwar commit political hara-kiri by becoming his deputy once again, Mahathir is now throwing his support behind Shafie, never mind that Shafie also heads a multiracial party. Clearly, he has no compunctions about changing the rules as he goes along to stay atop the game.

While no one is really surprised by Mahathir’s behaviour, the actions of the DAP are raising eyebrows. Lim Guan Eng, Anthony Loke and Liew Chin Tong have emerged as staunch ‘Mahatherites’ despite the fact that supporting Mahathir has created divisions within the party’s top leadership and anger among its grassroots.

As far as the aforementioned DAP leaders are concerned, it’s all the way with Mahathir now. Mahathir can keep on repeating all the old canards about the Chinese community – they are reluctant to adapt, they dominate the economy, they are a bigger problem than the Chinese from China – but the DAP’s faith in him remains unshaken. They are now apparently even willing to countenance Mukhriz as a future prime minister. Soon it will be impossible to tell the difference between the DAP and the MCA.

In the meantime, having succeeded in dividing PKR by pitting Azmin against Anwar, Mahathir now seems to be pitting the DAP and Amanah against PKR. Anwar’s position as leader of the opposition may be in doubt. Whatever it is, at this rate, thanks to Mahathir, there might not be much of an opposition left to face UMNO-PAS in GE15.

Mahathir, of course, constantly keeps reminding everyone that he wants to retire but “people” keep telling him that he is still needed. Nobody knows who these “people” are, but one thing is certain: more and more people are exasperated and fed up with Mahathir’s games. They yearn to move beyond Mahathir and the whole mess he created.

Although some may not be terribly excited about Anwar or rate his chances of winning the next election very highly, they feel he is a far better candidate than Mahathir. DAP and Amanah must heed the voice of the people and do the right thing: stop allowing themselves to be used as pawns in Mahathir’s great game and start working with PKR to prepare for the mother of all battles that will take place come GE15.