pic by RAZAK GHAZALI
THE air is heavy with anticipation after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) said a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent, a departure from his earlier reluctance of considering such notion on grounds that changes may not be for the better.
The prime minister’s (PM) preparedness to entertain the idea was obviously prompted by the outcome of the Tanjung Piai by-election where the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia candidate representing Pakatan Harapan (PH) not only lost the seat, but received atrouncing.
The idea of the reshuffle came amidst heavy criticisms and unsavoury reactions from within PH, describing the Tanjung Piai by-election as a referendum on Dr Mahathir and the results a call for his resignation.
While some quarters view the contention plausible, others took it with much scepticism since they came from PKR, in which, if Dr Mahathir does agree to step down, the biggest beneficiary would be the party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, self-styled 8th PM or PM-in-waiting as some of his boys seem to prefer.
Given the pre-election agreement between Dr Mahathir and PKR stalwarts, and endorsed by the other components, the DAP and Amanah, the exuberance among some of the PKR’s loyalists over the subject matter is not unfounded.
If prior to this the demand is on fixing the date for the handover, the Tanjung Piai by-election emboldened some from PKR to demand for an immediate transfer. On the sidelines, some minor DAP leaders too joined the fray, echoing similar sentiments.
For almost four days, the advocates of the immediate transfer of power seemed to be on a high until, Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, PKR deputy president, held a meeting at his residence with 22 MPs, the bulk of them from Umno and the rest from PKR.
It caught national attention and most pundits concluded that the meeting was intended to defend and shore up Dr Mahathir.
While 22 is far from the 112 MPs required for a simple majority in Parliament, it was a signal that it was not going to be easy to push Dr Mahathir out of office prematurely and not according to his time table.
Then, some of the PKR Youth decided to up the ante, declaring that they want Dr Mahathir to complete the mandate, basically taking it beyond the pre-election agreement.
By now, vocal Dr Mahathir’s supporters were returning the fire at his detractors, challenging them to table a no-confidence vote against the PM in Parliament.
Either they were sure that the numbers were on Dr Mahathir’s side and trying to call the bluff from the other end or they themselves were bluffing and that would not be known until and unless such a motion was tabled.
But with no one seeming ready to take up the challenge, opinions tend to weigh in favour of the former.
Of course, PAS’ Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s re-iteration that all his 18 party MPs stood by their earlier commitment of wanting Dr Mahathir to stay on and would support any vote of confidence, doesn’t help the cause of Dr Mahathir’s detractors.
Finally, when Anwar requested to see Dr Mahathir on Thursday and came out with an update on the social media that their meet concluded that they both would stick to the original agreement and would not entertain any attempt to deviate, it should seal any dreams of seeing an early transition or passing over of the mantle.
With that being put to rest, at least for the time being, Dr Mahathir’s plan of a reshuffle is re-igniting the imagination of the nation — speculations as to who would be dropped apart from the demands of certain ministers be dropped would persist until Dr Mahathir make public his decision.
Dr Mahathir, on his part, when asked if he was removing certain minister deemed most unpopular, had somewhat coyly hid behind the consensus narrative, saying that any changes would be discussed with the PH leadership.
Not missed is the fact while he seems more keen for consensus in deciding on the reshuffle, ministers and deputy ministers when asked for their opinion, reacted almost in unison that the process is solely the prerogative of the PM.
Whether they truly believe it or merely giving the usual lip service to show that they were subscribers of the democratic processes as styled after Westminster or they will be the ones protesting when dropped will only again be known when the reshuffle is announced.
If Dr Mahathir’s statement when he first raised his plans of the reshuffle is observed, the reshuffle is not likely to happen overnight.
Some may dismiss such eventuality on their person, probably believing their party or their party position will carry them through. They may be right, but they would have to remind themselves that they would not want to end up like the ministers from the previous administration who felt that the Cabinet post is their birth right.
For the others, they would be wondering if they had performed well enough, or had committed unforgivable error, abused their positions, forgotten their promises of serving the people or any other punishable “sins”.
Then again, the sword of Damocles is ubiquitous in corridors of power.
Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.