Should DAP and Amanah trust Dr Mahathir again?

(from left) DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu. - Filepic

“KILLING Renfri is the lesser evil.”

“Evil is evil, Stregobor.. Lesser, greater, middling .... It’s all the same.” -- The Witcher

Let’s start by being fair. The last two joint statements by DAP and Amanah made many decent points.

The first statement said they had to consult with other party leaders before taking a formal stance on whether to support Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal as Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for prime minister. This is a wise and correct step.

In the second statement, they rejected any form of cooperation with Perikatan Nasional. This of course is in principle the correct position to take, and principle should always be what matters the most.

So again: for the record, I concur that it is the correct stance that no one party should be in discussions with Perikatan Nasional alone – if at all it really must be done (highly doubtful), it should be done together as a coalition.

Where it gets a little more interesting is the manner in which the second statement very conspicuously named some individuals, thus directly referencing PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a somewhat accusatory manner.

In other words, it’s more “friendly fire” within Pakatan.

Just like in my last article, I am not here to argue for or against either Anwar or Shafie as candidate for prime minister.

I do feel however, that some serious questions must be raised regarding ongoing support for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

I cannot stress enough that this is not personal. I have stated repeatedly that Dr Mahathir has made many contributions to the nation. In fact, in 2018, I was invited to be part of a forum because the organisers had identified me (albeit mistakenly) as being “pro-Mahathir”.

The second statement by DAP and Amanah insisted that Dr Mahathir and his faction must be a part of any attempt to stage a countercoup (or in their words, “restore the people’s mandate”).

On one hand, of course, there is a defensible logic to this. Dr Mahathir was the clearly stated candidate for prime minister in 2018, so if we keep looking backwards in an attempt to “restore” the past, then yes, there is some logic to insisting on keeping Dr Mahathir.

Do we want to restore the past though?

I have been supportive of the various configurations of what is now Pakatan Harapan since about 2007. I have never, to date, campaigned for or been supportive of any of their opponents in any election.

Coming from this perspective, I think there are at least four questions that DAP and Amanah cannot afford to be blind to.

First, how should we evaluate Dr Mahathir’s recent two years in power?

Second, what does Dr Mahathir really want for the nation, especially with regards to race and politics?

Third, what were his real intentions, leading up to the Sheraton Move?

Fourth, what is the plan post-Dr Mahathir?

Let’s start with his most recent term as prime minister. What were the big achievements? A finance minister of Chinese descent? An attorney general of Indian descent?

These are not insignificant, but surely what these appointees achieved is more important than their race.

If I were to ask you, off the top of your head, what Dr Mahathir or any of these appointees achieved, what jumps to mind? Many ministers did a pretty decent job, but as far as deep, memorable, and lasting changes go, the list seems thin.

I won’t pretend that I “represent the masses”, but I have read the news almost every day for years now, and I honestly can’t think of achievements that really stand out.

I seem to recall a lot of tentative beginnings and false starts, and a lot of feet dragging.

I have written ad nauseum about how too much power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister.

It’s not healthy to “absolve” ministers of responsibility, but from my observation, I think many Pakatan former ministers would have liked to have done a lot more, but may have felt that their hands were tied by what Dr Mahathir did and did not want.

This leads us into the second question: what did Dr Mahathir really want?

Yes, he wanted to get rid of Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Everyone agreed easily about that.

How much did they agree about beyond that, however?

It is now on the record that Dr Mahathir said: Anwar cannot be prime minister because he leads a multiracial party.

This immediately raises two painfully obvious red flags. How can you “promise” to give power to Anwar in six months, given that Anwar would still at that point be leading a multiracial party?

Another red flag: does Shafie not also lead a multiracial party?

The way some politicians can twist words and arguments in mind-bending pretzels is nothing short of disgusting sometimes.

I think everything Dr Mahathir did in the last two years is absolutely consistent with his firm belief that keeping the races politically separate – the way it was in the “golden era” when he was prime minister for the first time – is the only viable way for Malaysia.

He has never, ever given any indication whatsoever that he believes anything else.

Amanah is essentially a monoethnic party, so we’ll leave them aside for now. For the DAP, perhaps it is time to come face to face with some real questions: how committed are you to the idea of multiracial leadership?

Do you concur with Dr Mahathir that only a Malay leading a Malay-only party can lead Malaysia? If so, this implies that you concur that the Barisan Nasional model is more or less the correct model, and that all the Malays in your party really are there for cosmetic representation.

Whichever your stance is, please communicate it honestly to the rest of Malaysia.

I try to avoid living in the past. But in the context of the third question of this article, it seems we are doomed to revisit the lead-up to the Sheraton Move.

There are many theories or stories of what happened around then, and I cannot vouch that any of them represent the solid truth.

The theory that I feel gained the most acceptance is that Dr Mahathir was indeed planning for a realignment.

Following up from the previous point, if he believed that the only way forward for Malaysia was to have a strong Malay-only party leading the government, then it goes to reason that he had to find a way to absorb a lot of Umno into his party, Bersatu.

There was only one irresolvable difference: Umno wanted to join en bloc, along with Najib, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and many others that Dr Mahathir was completely allergic to; while Dr Mahathir only wanted to accept selected factions within Umno.

He was stubborn and dead set on this. To him, it was personal.

I suspect that Dr Mahathir would have been happy to drop PKR, DAP, or both, if it meant getting most of Umno and/ or PAS on board. He would have basically been happy to rule over what is now the Perikatan government, with the sole difference that he would have excluded Najib’s faction.

Why else would he have elevated Anwar’s mortal enemy Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali to such a high position? Are we to believe that someone as sly and powerful as Dr Mahathir had no knowledge whatsoever about the negotiations that led to the Sheraton Move?

The way things panned out, I think it is perfectly believable that he was perfectly happy to go along, right until the point where he realised he had miscalculated how stubborn Umno was about only joining en bloc.

When Dr Mahathir refused to budge, Umno simply took advantage of the fact that he had vastly overplayed his hand by resigning, brokered a new deal with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin instead, and the rest is history.

The question is: did Dr Mahathir refuse to go along because of “loyalty” to DAP and Amanah? Or because he would not get his way?

Is he so obsessed about his vendetta now because the rakyat’s mandate was betrayed? Or because he feels he was personally betrayed?

Maybe the leaders of DAP and Amanah believe a different version of history. Or maybe they want some things so bad that they’ll believe any fiction that may help them achieve those goals.

In the old version of Politics 1.0 today, it is always the same questions of who is actually riding who, and who is going to backstab who.

As someone with a lot of love for DAP and Amanah, it is painful to watch what is going on. It’s a bit like someone who keeps going back to an abusive lover.

I’m sure they think they have some upper hand, or some ace up their sleeve that they can use as leverage. But think back to history – who has ever successfully “used” Dr Mahathir?

History shows beyond doubt, he is only ever a man who uses, never a man who is used.

This brings us to the final question: what happens post 94-year-old Dr Mahathir?

Are DAP and Amanah in such a rush that this most simple, burning question is so blatantly ignored?

The notion that somehow Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir will hold the same sway as his father is practically laughable.

Have we become so delusional to think that Mukrhiz as a “replacement” will hold the same sway and aura as his father?

If you think that a bit more time under Dr Mahathir will allow you to consolidate yourselves sufficiently, I only ask again to think back to the last two years.

I don’t know what Dr Mahathir thinks of Amanah, if he thinks of them at all. But I truly doubt that in his heart of hearts, he wants to see a strong DAP.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that in that same heart of hearts, Dr Mahathir is sincere in his wish for a better Malaysia.

I appreciate that. At the same time, I do respectfully disagree with many of his beliefs. And I do not think that things will end well for DAP and Amanah if they keep trying to go along with his vision, or if they think that they can control or influence it.

I know he has this rather unique aura, in no small part because he in some senses delivered what Anwar was unable to for over 20 years.

That said, if you insist on going backwards instead of forwards, then be drawn to the flame at your own risk.

At the rate things are going, some are already calling this the end of Pakatan. Coalitions without real foundations historically break up very soon after general elections.

This will surely upset many. For others though, maybe it is as good a fate as any for any coalition that is not truly a coalition in every sense of the word, nor one bound in well-defined shared values and principles. If a couple must split, best to do it before they have kids – not after.

If that happens, what is important is what we build from the ashes. If we keep looking to the same old structures, systems, and approaches – then all we will reap is the same old results.

NATHANIEL TAN works with Projek Wawasan Rakyat. He is also a strategic communications consultant, and can be reached at

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