The distance not yet stretched, the embarrassment yet to flush

pic by BERNAMA

IN 2016, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was then a former prime minister, was officially informed that, to avoid any kesipuan (embarrassment), he was not going to be invited for the installation of the King because “no chair was available” for him.

In 2019, only a few days ago, at the installation of the new King, former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak was provided a chair and invited but chose to stay away, and his supporters threw up a ruckus on grounds that he was not accorded a proper seat as provided for under the palace protocols.

Najib’s reason for staying away was that he was informed at the last minute that he was going to be seated as one of the Pahang nobles, instead of the seat as the former prime minister. That means he would have to wear the Pahang noble’s attire and it was not readily available as he had left it in his house in Pahang.

Then came the accusations that Najib was denied the seat accorded to a former prime minister on the insistence of Dr Mahathir who allegedly threatened not to attend the installation if the palace insisted on it.

Najib’s supporters immediately went to town or rather to the social media and berated Dr Mahathir of being heartless and vindictive.

And Dr Mahathir’s fans were quick to react, reproducing the 2016 letter from the Keeper of the Royal Seals which “uninvited” Dr Mahathir to the then King’s installation and sent the word “kesipuan” trending for a fair bit of time.

And keeping up with the current trend, these supporters were also telling Najib to look into the mirror before mocking Dr Mahathir over the installation episode.

To them, there was no comparison and if any, it was lopsidedly against Najib. Simply put, it was a case of Najib being invited versus Dr Mahathir being uninvited, available seat for Najib and no seat for Dr Mahathir and finally, kesipuan for Dr Mahathir and Pahang noble attire for Najib.

On the balance of scale, to Dr Mahathir’s supporters, there is no ground whatsoever for Najib and his supporters to feel upset. In fact, they should realise that despite all the scandals and court cases he’s facing, he still received the invitation.

And quite a number of Dr Mahathir’s supporters doubted the inability of Najib to retrieve his Pahang attire in time for the installation. To them, Najib just wanted to play victim and rally his supporters behind him.

How all these will pan out is anybody’s guess, but on a superficial observation, it will not gain much traction and move to the side lines as other more burning issues tingle the political grapevines.

One of it is whether Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is going to succeed the Prime Ministership as agreed upon in the Pakatan Harapan pre-election negotiations.

Based on the narratives of leaders from parties in the coalition, they agreed to support Dr Mahathir to assume the Prime Ministership if Pakatan Harapan won the election, and he would then work on the release and pardon for Anwar.

That done, Dr Mahathir will then continue as the prime minister for two to three years — there seems to be some ambiguity to the exact time frame, but obviously three years is the maximum — and then pass the mantle to Anwar.

As it is, Pakatan Harapan had won with Dr Mahathir as the chairman. He had worked for the pardon and release of Anwar from prison. Dr Mahathir has only served one year of the tenure and there’s at least one more year, if not two, before the transition is to take place.

Dr Mahathir has consistently said he would stick to the promise of passing the job to Anwar when the time comes.

But at the rate the debate is going, it is as if Dr Mahathir has to pass the post to Anwar as soon as possible. Whether it is Anwar’s doing or the impatience stems from his supporters is subject to conjectures.

Whether history is going to repeat itself is again conjectural, but a peek into the past may remind all what should be avoided and how to tread in these muddied paths.

Prior to Anwar’s sacking as the deputy prime minister and the anointed successor in 1998, Dr Mahathir’s inner circle would vouch that he was ready to pass the baton to Anwar after a sterling performance by the then ruling coalition in the 1995 general election.

By 1996, there were a lot of talks that Anwar’s boys were moving aggressively to secure support from Umno divisions, and were preparing to do a “Ghafar” on Dr Mahathir.

This was a reference to how Tun Ghafar Baba conceded his deputy presidency to Anwar in the Umno 1993 party polls. He didn’t know what hit him until the very last leg when Anwar secured overwhelming support during nominations that there was no necessity for the election to even be held. Ghafar knew by then he was truly outmanoeuvred and withdrew.

Then came the economic crisis in 1997 and reports of Anwar’s sexual misdemeanour emerged, and it was aggressively picked up by the Opposition but ignored by Dr Mahathir. It was only a year later signs of a major split between Dr Mahathir and Anwar started emerging and by September that year, he was sacked and the rest is of course history.

The fear probably is that, instead of becoming a new chapter, it becomes at best a mere footnote.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.