Mahathir as Opposition de-Facto Leader

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Mahathir could do more harm than good to Perikatan Nasional.

Mahathir Mohamad, the son of Iskandar “Kutty”, a migrant from the southern Indian state of Kerala, has recently met with chief ministers from four opposition states – Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis. The 90-minute meeting on September 2, including PAS Islamist party president Abdul Hadi Awang, has raised eyebrows over its evil purpose.

Known as SG4 (State Government Four, and not to be mistaken as TV series Stargate Season 4), the meeting happened on the same day Hadi pretended to be sick so that he could skip a police interview over a seditious speech he made. Photographs of the meeting at Mahathir’s home were deliberately spread by Opposition Perikatan Nasional to create sensation and attention.

The most puzzling part of the meeting, which former Prime Minister Mahathir and Prime Minister Wannabe Hadi tried very hard to paint as some sort of victory celebration, was the absence of Muhyiddin Yassin (another hungry-power ex-premier trying to return to power to redeem his abruptly ejection from power after serving only 17 months as backdoor prime minister).

But what can Mahathir really offer to the fractured opposition alliance? He is, after all, the Malay leader who has been overwhelmingly rejected by the same community he claimed to represent. In the November 2022 General Election, the 97-year-old man tasted his first defeat since he lost in 1969. He garnered only 4,566 votes, or 6.8%, and hence failed to keep his deposit as a candidate.

Not only did the Mahathir-led Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) coalition lose all the 121 parliamentary seats it contested in the national polls, but the former premier and his son Mukhriz were among 369 parliamentary candidates who lost their deposits after obtaining less than one-eighth of the total number of votes. It was the most humiliating moment in the political career of Mahathir Mohamad.

It was both amusing and puzzling that the ex-PM could lose the Langkawi constituency, supposedly his stronghold. In fact, he was so disappointed and frustrated by the stunning defeat that he accused the people of Langkawi of being “ungrateful” for his past contributions. Throwing tantrums, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong and demanded to know why he was rejected.

Yet, even after Malay voters expressed their loss of confidence in Mahathir, religious extremist Hadi and his minions flocked to his home, begging him to become the opposition de-facto leader. Hasn’t PAS realized that Mahathir’s “glory days” were over and his “ultra Malay” factor was no longer effective in hoodwinking the Malays, who are getting cleverer?

As revealed by Terengganu Chief Minister Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, the loyalist and errand boy of Hadi, the former premier has now become an “unofficial adviser” to the gang of four PAS-controlled state governments. Samsuri said – “Specifically, Mahathir will give us advice on effective governance to ensure the proposed grouping will be managed efficiently.”

It appears the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS – Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) has publicly admitted that they don’t know how to run their states. Otherwise, why do they need Mahathir to teach them the basic effective governance? Perhaps that explains why PAS could not even provide clean water to the people of Kelantan, the state under the Islamist party’s rule almost uninterrupted since 1959.

The best part, however, was not PAS’ admission that they were clueless and incompetent in running a state, let alone four. The most hilarious part was about the SG4’s grand plan to engage the old man so that he could connect the four radical and conservative PAS-ruled states with investors from countries like Japan and South Korea that thought to have good ties with Mahathir.

Sure, foreign investors from developed countries like Japan and South Korea are so retarded that they can’t tell that Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis are on the right track to become Taliban states. Why should investors dump money into Kelantan, a state so underdeveloped and poor that the Malays have no access to running water and have only intermittent power supply?

In fact, coming from the horse’s mouth, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry Kelantan regional office said Kelantan cannot attract investors due to its poor infrastructure and lack of attractive incentives from the state government. Its Director Azran Derahman said over a 20-year period, some 250 factories in the state have ceased operations and moved to other states.

Thanks to the incompetent PAS state government, Kelantan is struggling to prevent the remaining 100 factories from closing down and exiting the state. Besides social problems caused by high unemployment, investors have been put off by infrastructure problems such as water, street lighting, electricity and drainage. In 10 more years, all foreign investors will completely close down their factories.

Even in Terengganu, the richest state among the four states, investments have been scarce and limited – attracting a total investment of only RM2.3 billion involving 29 manufacturing projects from 2017 to June 2022, according to the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA). Of the figures, foreign investments accounted for just RM1.27 billion, primarily in the petroleum and chemical industries.

On the other hand, Kedah managed to attract foreign direct investments due to spillover effects from neighbouring Penang’s electrical and electronics (E&E) industry. The recent global semiconductor company Infineon Technologies AG’s decision to invest up to €5 billion (RM25 billion) over the next 5 years to expand its Kulim facility was due to the Anwar-led Unity Government.

If the current unity government suddenly collapsed or the Kedah state government fast-tracked the transformation of Kedah into a Taliban state, Germany’s largest semiconductor manufacturer would suspend its investments. Likewise, if the Penang government falls into the hands of religious extremists, both foreign and domestic investors can always pull out, dealing a blow to Kedah as well.

Can Mahathir, now powerless, convince his so-called buddies from Japan and South Korea to invest in Kelantan or Terengganu? Even if the Japanese and South Korean businessmen are dumb enough to believe him, who will splash billions of dollars to upgrade the basic infrastructures in the opposition states? Japanese investors came to Malaysia in the 1980s, largely because of Mahathir’s “Look East” policy.

But the Look East Policy was a failure. For example, despite the policy, Proton’s technology partner Mitsubishi was merely using Proton to manufacture and market its own models in Malaysia, without any technology transfer at all to Malaysia. For decades, Mitsubishi kept selling its old engines to Malaysians, and Mahathir proudly bragged about Proton as a Malaysia-made car.

HICOM (Heavy Industries Corporation of Malaysia), established in 1981 to lead the heavy industrialization programme, and Perwaja Steel, a US$465 million joint venture established in 1982 between HICOM and Nippon Steel Corporation that was supposed to be the centrepiece of industrialization, are some other pet projects of Mahathir that had gone bust.

Therefore, PAS actually knew Mahathir had expired and he could no longer play any role in convincing Japanese or South Korean investors to invest in the opposition states. The “Pak Lebai” also realized that the old man is incredibly toxic among the ethnic Malay. That’s why the ex-premier has been appointed as an “unofficial adviser” instead of making the position “official”.

It was a humiliation to Mahathir that PAS refused to honour him as an official adviser or a mentor. But it was a clever move to distance the Islamist party from the old fox in the event things go south. By making Mahathir an unofficial adviser, PAS can blame and ditch him if he screws up, but at the same time can claim credit if he could play his role to help the opposition.

In reality, PAS wanted to dump Bersatu president Muhyiddin, who is also the chairman of Perikatan Nasional, because he could no longer contribute to Hadi’s ambition to become the next prime minister. The Islamist party was also testing the water to see if Mahathir could replace Bersatu secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin as the Opposition de facto leader.

Both Muhyiddin and Hamzah are tainted with corruption scandals, but PAS cannot kick out its ally without sparking a crisis that would cripple Perikatan Nasional. Another reason Mahathir cannot be made an official de facto leader – he is not a Member of Parliament. It was also hoped that Mahathir could be used to repair Perikatan Nasional image, which is tainted with Islamist extremism.

PAS president Hadi Awang hoped Mahathir could drive Perikatan Nasional to another level which Muhyiddin can’t, the same way Mahathir led Pakatan Harapan in the 2018 General Election and successfully toppled the Barisan Nasional government for the first time in 60 years since independence. Clearly, the unofficial title for Mahathir is to reduce conflicts between Hadi and Muhyiddin.

More importantly, Hadi hoped “billionaire Mahathir” could be flattered to fund the opposition after Bersatu’s accounts had been frozen for money laundering. With the “traitor” badge hanging around Muhyiddin’s neck, PAS believes Bersatu could only ask how high if asked to jump. Crucially, Hadi hoped Mahathir could influence Sarawak to jump ship when the time comes to the formation of a second backdoor government.

However, Mahathir could do more harm than good to Perikatan Nasional. The half-baked strategic cooperation could backfire after the Malays rejected him, only to be brought back to the political front by PAS. Mahathir’s appointment also suggests that the opposition is split, not to mention the desperate need for a new leader who is more capable than Muhyiddin, but less toxic than Hadi. – Finance Twitter