Alternate rider for the same tiger

pic by TMR FILE

JUST a week shy of seven months ago, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government crumbled following the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture). It is probably a good time to revisit that incident so as to have a perspective on what is currently unfurling.

Dr Mahathir said his resignation was premised on the fact that he had lost the support of his own party, to a faction led by party president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who had joined forces with Umno led by its president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PAS, led by its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong had requested the former PM to retract his resignation, but Dr Mahathir was adamant that he couldn’t continue, not after losing the majority following the decision of his party and several others to throw their lot with Umno and PAS, in what is today popularised as the Sheraton Move.

To him, if he was to stay on, it must be with the explicit support from the majority of the MPs and not merely acceding to the request of the palace.

His decision to resign was met with criticisms from both sides of the political divide — from the PH side, that he had caused the fall of the popularly elected government, and other the new ruling coalition’s side that he had only himself to blame for losing his Prime Ministership.

Dr Mahathir tried to explain that he couldn’t agree to the Sheraton Move because he had no reason to abandon PH and he would rather lose his Prime Ministership rather than work with Umno en bloc, as it meant accepting the support of Umno MPs who were awaiting trial for numerous cases, including ex-PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd infamy and Ahmad Zahid.

To him, the Umno bloc had agreed to support the new coalition because it wanted to manoeuvre ways of getting their leaders out of facing their legal battles.

Muhyiddin took advantage of the situation, telling Dr Mahathir that he (Muhyiddin) was alright with working with Umno en bloc and he would be able to handle any attempts to destabilise his government.

Despite attempts by Dr Mahathir to delay the move and that pursuing it would be akin to riding a tiger, Muhyiddin remained insistent, and instead of listening to the grand old man of Malaysian politics, opted to listen to a political secretary whose rise to what little fame he had achieved was not from his wits, but rather Dr Mahathir’s pity.

Even then, Muhyiddin still struggled to get his majority as PH leaders, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim included, decided to rally around Dr Mahathir and threw their lot in with him, making sure he secured a 114-majority.

That support, too, was quite ironic as Anwar had later, after Dr Mahathir’s resignation, convinced other PH leaders that he had the numbers, but failed to deliver.

Realising that, Anwar and the rest of the PH leaders came to their senses and pledged their support to Dr Mahathir, but by then, it was a bit too late as Muhyiddin had rounded up leaders from the various parties and convinced the palace that he had the collective support of each party without detailing who they were.

And the statutory declarations from the 114 supporters of Dr Mahathir were laid to waste and Muhyiddin proceeded to become the eighth PM of Malaysia.

Since his ascension to the coveted post, Muhyiddin had tried through carrot and stick to get more MPs on his side, but except for a couple, the effort never took off. Hence, when the Parliament was convened, when voting was conducted, Muhyiddin’s majority remained razor-thin, with a meagre two-vote advantage.

Whether it is by chance or by design, Muhyiddin had also managed to avoid facing a vote of no confidence which had been submitted by Dr Mahathir and accepted by the Dewan Rakyat.

On Wednesday, when Anwar announced that he again had the numbers, it was gleefully applauded by his supporters, but others were sceptical.

These scepticisms are not misplaced as Anwar’s track record of announcing having the numbers but not delivering is not a new phenomenon.

As far back as 2008, after Tun (then Datuk Seri) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi saw the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition he helmed losing the two-thirds majority, Anwar had claimed that he had the numbers as several BN MPs had pledged to join him and then Pakatan Rakyat to form the government. The date set was Sept 16 that year, to herald Malaysia Day, as well as a new Malaysia.

Of course then, there weren’t too many criticisms over the attempts of forming a backdoor government as Anwar had always been good at playing the victim and whatever he did was always to right a wrong.

If he had delivered the numbers, he would have become the sixth PM, but he didn’t and that was it.

Then, as pointed out earlier, just after Dr Mahathir resigned earlier this year, Anwar had primed himself as the person to succeed as he had the numbers. If he did, he would have become the eighth PM instead of Muhyiddin. But he didn’t and that was it.

So, when Anwar announced he had the numbers two days ago, critics should be forgiven for being sceptical given his past failure to deliver the numbers he claimed to have.

But given the very slim majority that Muhyiddin commands, Anwar should probably be given the benefit of the doubt. As of now, he should be considered the 8.5th PM and on the verge of being the ninth PM as soon as he proves his numbers.

The next question that begs an answer is who are the ones supporting him? Will they include the Umno leaders facing the court cases or, if not, are they supporters of the six?

If the answer for both is ‘Yes’, then Anwar is now attempting to ride the same tiger that Muhyiddin did. A vicious cycle can then be expected.

In the meantime, the focus should be on Muhyiddin as to whether he still commanded the majority, and based on Ahmad Zahid’s statement that he was informed many Umno and BN MPs had expressed support for Anwar, then Muhyiddin had definitely lost his right to the Prime Ministership.

Actually, it was already building up when Najib was found guilty by the High Court. Umno supporters had been cursing Muhyiddin for not doing anything to derail the conviction. In other words, what Dr Mahathir had predicted about him riding the tiger had come true and he is now being savaged by it.

Muhyiddin’s remarks that he is neither from a front or backdoor government but rather coming from the front gates of the palace are alluding that he is still the palace’s choice as PM.

That is not a very good sign. Dr Mahathir chose to resign because he did not want to burden the palace with his insistence of being the PM when he had lost his majority. That should be the gold standard for Muhyiddin and future leaders to follow.

Otherwise, the leader is at best a “Bendahara”, the PM equivalent in the Malay kingdoms of yore.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.