Pakatan leaders want a definite date

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Dr M says he would hand over in November, but some are demanding for a specific timetable

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad drew laughter from journalists when he told them that he was unsure what would happen at the Pakatan Harapan presidential council meeting tomorrow because he was just “a chair”.

It was also the way he said it – with a cheeky grin, a seemingly helpless shrug of the shoulders and an ironic tilt of the eyebrow.

The Pakatan chairman is truly an expert at deflecting thorny questions.

Of course, he has a pretty good idea what lies ahead at the leadership council meeting and he knows his coalition partners are itching for clarification about the political speculation out there.

He also knows that his partners are anxious about the transition issue.

That was why he confirmed that he would resign after the Apec Summit in November.

It was his most definite statement so far on the handover of power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim after more than a year of ambiguity.

Dr Mahathir is facing what looks to be a pivotal meeting of the highest decision-making body of the ruling coalition.

“He has pre-empted what might happen at the meeting and put things in context.

“He seems serious and everyone should take note.

“He is also sending out the message – don’t push me too far.

“Someone like him always has something up his sleeves, ” said political analyst and former DAP parliamentarian Jeff Ooi.

Friday’s meeting is taking place after weeks of high politics that saw PAS planning to initiate a vote of confidence in Dr Mahathir and a race to secure statutory declarations (SDs) of support for him.

And, of course, there was the intense and disturbing speculation of changes in the government – a backdoor government as some called it – that has refused to go away.

The gist of all that political drama was about enabling Dr Mahathir to go full term.

Put another way, it was a complex attempt by those with vested interests to block Anwar from the premiership.

But has all that been a wasted effort given Dr Mahathir’s pledge to resign after the Apec Summit?

Dr Mahathir made it quite clear that whatever happens at the meeting, he would go after November.

The impression given is that the transition issue is “settled” and all is well again.

Anwar, on his part, had declared that he is prepared to wait a while more for the premiership and there have been no objections from the other coalition partners.

They agree it is fitting that Dr Mahathir plays host to the Apec Summit, which would be a worthy finale to the elder man’s term of office.

However, several political insiders in Pakatan suggest that another dramatic chapter lies ahead at the presidential council meeting.

Pakatan leaders want a more specific handover date.

As far as some of them are concerned, “after November” could mean 2021 or even 2022.

It is also learnt that they will broach the possibility of bringing Anwar into the Cabinet because the prime minister-in-waiting needs to be involved in the government.

“Anwar is prepared to wait but it is only fair to give a date, ” said a long-time associate of Anwar.

A political insider said there might also be a sort of last ditch effort to ask Dr Mahathir to reconsider a May transition even though he had committed to going after November.

It is also learnt that the pro-Anwar circle in Pakatan is eyeing a handover by December at the earliest, so that Anwar will have sufficient time and space to work towards his own electoral mandate.

A clear-cut date will also end the uncertainty, which has been bad for business and investment.

Everyone has been terribly tight-lipped and according to a PKR politician, Anwar has instructed his party not to make any more press statements ahead of the meeting.

Anwar, as one MP put it, does not want them “adding chilli sauce to an already spicy situation”.

Dr Mahathir may claim to be only “a chair” at the meeting but the outcome of the meeting will depend on how he chooses to respond.

He has long resisted naming a date because no leader would want to be rendered a lame duck figure.

It would be quite difficult for him to be effective with an expiry date ticking away and everyone would be gravitating towards his successor.

Dr Mahathir is notoriously famous for his dislike at being told what to do.

Malaysians think they know him inside out but he is still capable of springing surprises.

Malaysia’s most famous satirist Allan Perera, who is obviously a keen watcher on the elder statesman, got it right as usual in his latest skit where he performs a song about Dr Mahathir sung to the Nat King Cole hit Unforgettable.

Perera not only finds the big man unforgettable but also unbelievable in coming this far and most of all, as unpredictable as ever.

He hit all the right notes – musically and politically.

The stage is set for what might be the most important meeting that Pakatan leaders have had in a long while.

They are basically getting ready to bell the cat.

“It’s still his game for as long as he is the PM.

“He still dictates how they will do the ‘ronggeng’, ” said Ooi, referring to the video clip of Dr Mahathir grooving along to a ronggeng beat.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.

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