Dealing with division within the ranks

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 24 May 2020

IT was close to breaking fast time on Tuesday when news broke that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had lost his position as Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman. Calls and text messages began flooding party leaders’ phones confirming the news.

It hasn’t been an easy week for Dr Mahathir. Apart from losing the Bersatu chairmanship, his son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, lost his position as Kedah Mentri Besar for the second time – collateral damage from Dr Mahathir tabling a no- confidence vote against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

As all efforts to reconcile Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin involving multiple parties over recent weeks failed, the intensifying feud between the two former allies has all the makings of a nasty divorce.

Audio recordings of a confidential Feb 23 meeting were leaked on social media by rival factions, while DAP, PKR and even the Registrar of Societies (ROS) were dragged into the fight.

The latest hit against Dr Mahathir’s team is a graft report against Mukhriz that was lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission by a Bersatu leader.

At the crux is the upcoming Bersatu party polls, which have currently been put on hold in accordance with a ROS directive to defer all public gatherings until after June 30 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Jeniri Amir, a political analyst from Sarawak, said putting the polls on hold arguably provides time for Dr M’s opposers to reduce the seasoned politician’s influence within Bersatu, as the 95-year-old is seen as a stumbling block within the party and a threat to Muhyiddin’s position as premier.

“Internally, it should be more stable for Muhyiddin as long as no lawmakers or leaders jump to Dr Mahathir’s camp, ” he said.

He added that the move will also make Muhyiddin more dominant in the party and he will be the one calling the shots.

Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said it would be an uphill task for Dr Mahathir to win back his position, just as the chances of Mukhriz beating Muhyiddin for the party’s presidency is low given that he is no longer Kedah Mentri Besar.

Also, Muhyiddin has the upper hand as he is the current Prime Minister, which gives him an advantage in retaining current supporters and attracting new ones as well as in being able to mobilise campaign machinery.

“The chances of Muhyiddin losing (in party polls) is very low currently. If he wins, there will be continuous efforts to pressure Dr Mahathir (to stop going after Muhyiddin’s premiership), ” the professor added.

If there is one thing Muhyiddin would have learned during his long career as a politician, it is not to follow in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s footsteps and allow an internal rebellion to linger within the party. With party polls postponed, a purge of Dr Mahathir and his allies will probably be ongoing, as Muhyiddin’s faction races against time to stem the nonagenarian’s influence within Bersatu, said Prof Awang Azman.

“The probability of purging Dr Mahathir and Mukhriz before the party polls is very high.

“At least one of them will be eliminated so that the party elections will be smooth... (and) to ensure there will no longer be any threats of division within Bersatu.”

However, while it seems as though Dr Mahathir is presently on the losing end, one should remember that he hasn’t shown all the cards in his hands yet. Prof Azman Awang regards Dr Mahathir as a politician with nine lives.

“Their (Dr M’s faction) best option to remain relevant in national politics is to get three to four Bersatu MPs to support Dr Mahathir in the no confidence motion (in Parlia-ment).

“It is challenging, but anything can happen in politics, ” he said.

Another analyst described the purging of Dr Mahathir and his supporters from Bersatu as a double- edged sword: It could ensure a clear path ahead for party polls or it could drag on a worsening internal conflict up to the upcoming Parliament session in July.

“A no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin’s legitimacy as premier has been accepted by the Speaker to be debated, ” he reminded.

“If Muhyiddin fails to deal with this issue, Bersatu will remain divided.

“People should remember that Mahathir always has a trick or two up his sleeve.”

Recently, Dr Mahathir also said the Opposition would reject Bills tabled by Muhyiddin’s administration until the no-confidence motion is tabled in Parliament. He claims that Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional coalition only holds a two-seat majority in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat, adding that it is the narrowest majority any government in Malaysia has ever had.

Obviously, Dr Mahathir hasn’t thrown in the towel yet – in fact, it looks like he’s settling in for the battle ahead.

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