With Umno defectors crossing over to Pakatan Harapan, it is only a matter of time before the ruling coalition bloc gets a two-thirds majority and become the new champion of Malay rights.
IF Dr Mahathir lives to 100, we will be the only nation with a centenarian as prime minister – this was the conclusion of a sceptical Pakatan Harapan member in a discussion on the much-debated succession plan.
The Pakatan member was echoing doubts that the country’s fourth and seventh Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would pass the baton over to his once successor-turned-enemy-turned-successor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
While both men had buried the hatchet for a common cause – to take on Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak amid the 1MDB scandal in the 14th General Election, to some, it seemed humanly difficult to forget the past where Anwar spent 20 years fighting sexual allegations and spending some of those years in jail.
For Dr Mahathir, it seemed out of character for him to let bygones be bygones, especially when at that time he was adamant over Anwar’s guilt and used all the resources and influence accorded to him as an autocratic leader to ensure that Anwar was destroyed politically.
But today, the 93-year-old Dr Mahathir heads a Cabinet comprising people he had put in jail or whose fathers he had imprisoned – Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Multimedia and Communications Minister Gobind Singh Deo – immediately come to mind.
The Malaysian government and ruling coalition is proof that in politics, there is no such thing as permanent friends or permanent enemies.
With that in mind, his new friends in Pakatan have been uneasy over Dr Mahathir’s apparent cosying up to Umno defectors. The DAP has already gone on record that it will never accept current Umno members into the coalition.
Of the 17 who have quit Umno, three have joined Dr Mahathir’s party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) – the most senior being former international trade and industry minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.
One can appreciate the prospect of getting more Umno MPs into Bersatu. Following the seminal May 9 general election, Umno commanded the largest number of seats in the Dewan Rakyat with 54, proving that Pakatan still has some way to go to attain the support of the Malays.
The Pakatan coalition is led in numbers by PKR with 47 (now 50), DAP with 42, Amanah with 11 and Parti Warisan Sabah with eight (now nine).
Bersatu commands the Cabinet with only 13 seats (now 16) and if one remembers, there was much displeasure over the disproportionate number of ministers to seats in Parliament during the forming of Dr Mahathir’s Cabinet.
Anwar had called for everyone to respect the Pakatan agreement prior to the 14th General Election that mandated that Dr Mahathir would be Prime Minister if the coalition won. Thus, as Prime Minister, Anwar said Dr Mahathir must be given the space and freedom to select his own Cabinet and make his own policies – albeit after discussing with his Cabinet and coalition colleagues.
With the Port Dickson by-election engineered to put Anwar back into the Dewan Rakyat, the machinery is in motion for Anwar to succeed Dr Mahathir in two years – as promised to the rakyat.
However, to those still haunted by the events following Anwar’s sacking as deputy prime minister in 1998 and subsequent jailing, they doubt Dr Mahathir’s sincerity in handing over the reins to Anwar. Talk of his preferred successor in Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is still fresh and has factored into the Umno defections.
“But Dr Mahathir will need to step down soon regardless. His wife (Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali) is nagging him about his health,” said a Bersatu insider.
“Don’t forget, she wept when it was announced in Langkawi that Dr Mahathir is the choice for prime minister if Pakatan wins.
“She is worried about the prospect of losing her husband who is at a frail age to the stresses of the job.”
However, one must say that victory is an elixir. Dr Mahathir seems to have an added spring in his steps since May 9.
Perhaps the mouthwatering prospect of increasing Bersatu’s numbers in Parliament and by extension, its influence in the government is too enticing?
With all 17 defectors from Umno, Bersatu will increase its numbers to 30, then, relying on the herd mentality of Umno members, it would be a matter of time before it becomes the largest party in the Dewan Rakyat, delivering the two-thirds majority to Pakatan and becoming the new champion of Malay rights.
After all, loosely translated to English, Bersatu is the acronym for United Malays National Organisation (Umno).
This has prompted Amanah to also indicate that it is open to accepting defectors to boost its own numbers. What is to stop MPs from PAS which has 18 parliamentary seats to defect to Amanah?
It must be noted though that some of the Umno defectors are also making a beeline to Anwar’s door.
After all, it would be prudent to make amends and alliances with the next in line.
Anwar, however, has refused to entertain the idea, acknowledging that he will lose the trust of the people even before he becomes the prime minister if he allows Umno members, especially tainted ones, to creep into Pakatan.
He also reiterated that the current narrative over the Umno defections is yet another attempt designed at pitting him against Dr Mahathir.
When contacted, Anwar said: “The excitement over the defections and talks of a rift with Dr Mahathir is unproductive. These issues contribute to the growing disillusionment among the people, especially the youths who have placed a lot of hope on us to provide a brighter future for them.
“This is politics as usual and frankly, it is getting tiring. We need to focus on nation building and fulfilling the mandate of the people. Drawing members from Umno or any other party is not and should not be our preoccupation.”
The irony is that it is the split Umno factions – one seeking to be aligned to Dr Mahathir and the other with Anwar – which are creating the narrative by their statements.
Both Dr Mahathir and Anwar being seen with these Umno leaders – whether in the Parliament lounge or at one’s home – only add fuel to the fire.
One Pakatan leader attempts some words of comfort: “At this point, Dr Mahathir is seeking to salvage his legacy. Going back on the succession plan will taint that legacy. He will want to step down on a high note and cement his name in history as the hero who saved Malaysia.”
Dr Mahathir has since given his assurance that Bersatu will not accept tainted Umno members – in response to criticisms from the rakyat as well as from within his own coalition.
This stand is consistent with the anti-party hopping stance of Pakatan coalition partners such as DAP.
In the interest of democracy, no one should obtain a two-thirds majority either via crossovers.
Bersatu cannot morph into an Umno 2.0. Are those crossing over doing so because they genuinely do not see a future with Umno led by Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is fighting corruption charges of his own?
Or do they hope that the gravy train will keep coming their way if they switch allegiance?
Perhaps they are seeking sanctuary – that being a supporter or member of Bersatu will save them from corruption charges themselves. After all, since Pakatan took over the country, we have seen a slew of Umno leaders being charged, including its former No.1 and No.2.
That Dr Mahathir’s administration has looked the other way when it comes to Sarawak Governor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud fuels talk that political expediency dictates whose neck is on the chopping block and who will escape being made to answer for alleged shenanigans.
But Bersatu could find that its strategy of strengthening its position has backfired as it is outnumbered by Umno defectors. Who knows? It might get Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik as its next president!
But it could be a case of much ado about nothing. One is hopeful that Dr Mahathir and Anwar are having a good laugh watching developments in Umno, seeing the once powerful and almighty falling over each other to pledge loyalty to a leader of their choosing.
After all, if Umno members are still fixated on individual leaders instead of the organisation and its struggle, then they are yet to learn anything and Pakatan is better off without such persons in their fold.