The reneging democrats


QUITE a number of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s supporters were upset last week when reading reports quoting PKR VP Rafizi Ramli as saying that a retirement date would be imposed on Dr Mahathir, if he did not commit to a timeline on handing power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim by early next year.

What irked them more was probably one of foreign publications which carried a blunt-bordering-on-rudeness headline which read: “Mahathir, set a retirement date or we’ll do it for you: Anwar ally Rafizi on Malaysia’s power transition.”

The responses came quick and thick, among others, questioning the wisdom of Rafizi to make such “threats” publicly and whether his views represented the PKR leadership, Anwar included.

In the light of Rafizi’s announcement of quitting politics just over two months ago, his statement to them was as political and politically-driven as it can come from a politician.

Then, like musketeers, three PKR lawmakers threw their weight behind Rafizi’s demand that Dr Mahathir set the timeline. One even argued that all that ailed the nation will be cured once Anwar took over.

All these had further upset Dr Mahathir’s supporters. However, amid them was a contrarian, who felt that Dr Mahathir’s supporters and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia members and leaders should be glad that the ultimatum came from Rafizi.

He argued that they shouldn’t be rankled by Rafizi, given his track record in “strategising” for PKR — referencing on the 2014 Kajang Move, as well as his more recent attempt to win the PKR deputy presidency against incumbent Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.

The contrarian may be justified, given the manner the Kajang Move panned out in which it was planned and executed by Rafizi, intended to remove then Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and replace him with Anwar. However, Anwar was disqualified following his incarceration, and the move shifted towards making Anwar’s wife Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail the replacement.

However, Rafizi did not factor in the palace’s role in such an appointment and in the end, Azmin got the coveted post.

In that context, if Rafizi’s plans end up benefitting his bitter rival, the contrarian is quite correct in not wanting his peers to get riled up with Rafizi’s comments and ultimatum.

Further, how much can Rafizi’s ultimatum be taken seriously when he couldn’t dislodge Azmin as the PKR deputy president despite all and sundry being aware that he was backed by the party top leadership and all the president’s men.

More of concern should be the opinion that Anwar’s ascension to the Prime Ministership will solve the problems besieging the country.

Coming at a time when recent polls showed that Anwar only enjoys 13% of the Malay support, the nation’s racial and religious divide, considered the most challenging, is unlikely to be resolved either.

But worse, if Dr Mahathir is to be pressured to step down before time, the possibilities of the divide widening are very real and the Pakatan Harapan coalition crumbling is unavoidable.

Actually, the framing on issue of transition had been skewed from the start.

The way some of the PKR stalwarts had been framing the issue is as if Dr Mahathir is reneging, or planning to renege from the promise to hand over to Anwar after two to three years of the Prime Ministership.

For context, Dr Mahathir would only be reneging if at the end of the third year, he refused to step down and hand over to Anwar, but this is something he had repeatedly affirmed that he would honour the promise.

And why, at the end of three years and not two? Conventional wisdom shows when a promise is made that it will be fulfilled between two and three years, the one making the promise will only be accused of reneging it at the end of the three years and not after two years.

And given the manner the PKR lawmakers and leaders had been pushing for Dr Mahathir to set a timeline and some demanding he steps down even after he was only in office for one year, it is them who had reneged from the promise.

And they can’t use their distrust over him not honouring the promise as a justification.

That’s politics, some may argue, but if they are sure that they have the support and they want Dr Mahathir to step down earlier, instead of giving ultimatums which Dr Mahathir should just ignore, then the next best thing they could do is to push for a vote of no confidence.

That is ultimately the best option in a parliamentary democracy if they are impatient and want the transfer of power to be effected before the end of the three years.

After all, their clarion call for reformation is filled with democratic ideals and conventions. And taking that route will prove their mettle as democrats.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.