Pakatan split on Malay unity


  • Analysis
  • Monday, 08 Jul 2019

Dr Mahathir at the Bloomberg Asean Business Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, June 21, 2019. – Bloomberg

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad may find himself facing a firing squad of sorts when he chairs the Pakatan Harapan presidential council meeting today.

The shockwaves from his call for Malay parties, including Umno, to join Bersatu is still rippling through political circles and his Pakatan partners want him to explain what it is all about.

Pakatan has made many U-turns in the last one year. But if this is allowed to happen, it will be one U-turn too many and many Pakatan leaders are dead against it.

But can they stop Dr Mahathir?

They were unable to prevent the Bersatu chairman from accepting Umno MPs earlier this year and it will be interesting to see how they can pull the brakes on him this time around.

Besides, Pakatan leaders ought to know by now that you do not tell Dr Mahathir what to do.

“You have to know that Mahathir does not like to be dictated to. Never, never dictate to him what to do,” said a Bersatu insider.

But Pakatan leaders have mixed feelings about the move for a super Malay party in the coalition and are expected to put up arguments against it.

However, the main resistance will come mainly from the DAP and PKR partners.

According to the Bersatu insider, Amanah president Mohamad Sabu is expected to back Dr Mahathir.

Mat Sabu, as he is known, has grown quite close to the Prime Minister and they are said to be on the same page on many issues.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s relationship with Dr Mahathir has been quite strained since their fallout over the appointments of the Johor Mentri Besar and state exco members.

There were raised eyebrows when Muhyiddin and several division chiefs aligned to him were not at the Johor Bersatu open house attended by Dr Mahathir on Sunday.

However, the insider said the Bersatu president loves the party of which he was a founding member.

Bersatu is like his baby and he will not let his differences with Dr Mahathir stand in the way of efforts to enable the party to grow stronger and bigger.

But he will probably take the line to accept only untainted Malay leaders.

Meanwhile, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been walking on eggshells around Dr Mahathir.

The PKR president does not want to offend the elder man or jeopardise the transition plan.

At the same time, he is unlikely to be 100% in favour of the entry of Umno or PAS into the coalition.

He will probably want Dr Mahathir to moderate his aspirations for a dominating Malay party in their multiracial coalition.

DAP leaders are expected to oppose the move because their non-Malay base cannot accept Umno or PAS.

The party knows that Pakatan needs Malay support to make it through the next general election.

However, it will lose the moral high ground if it accepts Umno or PAS.

But whether DAP leaders are able to pose a strong objection is questionable because the party is enjoying its place in the sun, so much so that it is now known as the “silent party”.

Will the Pakatan leaders stand their ground or will they dare to rock the boat?

This Malay unity thing is a song that Dr Mahathir has been singing since his days as Umno president.

Back then, the lyrics were that Umno can only be strong if the Malays are united. Now, it is about Bersatu beco­ming strong if the Malays are united.

But it would be naive to take all this purely as a move to build up Malay support for Pakatan.

This Malay unity story seems very much about Dr Mahathir and the numbers game, given that it came so soon after Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi resumed his duties as Umno president.

Dr Mahathir probably sees a hidden hand behind the return of the Bagan Datuk MP, who goes back a long way with Anwar.

Even Umno members think that Ahmad Zahid will rally the numbers for Anwar to move up.

Dr Mahathir does not like to be pressured or cornered, and the move to build up the numbers in his own party could be his way of telling his partners: Don’t think you can push me around.

He has said many times that Anwar will succeed him.

But he dislikes people pressing him on when he will make way or how long more he will stay.

As far as he is concerned, he is not done yet and he will decide when to go.

For instance, sources said that in the wake of the Rome Statute issue, a Pakatan figure conveyed a message supposedly from the Malay Rulers asking for the foreign minister to be replaced.

Dr Mahathir flatly refused to do that and had shot back at the messenger: “You want to become (the) Foreign Minister?”

The Malay unity call has drawn a rather lukewarm reaction from either PAS or Umno.

The two Malay giants seem less than interested.

They have found much common ground together and the by-­election wins have confirmed their control over the Malay base.

Moreover, Pakatan is no longer as appealing as it was a year ago.

The coalition has lost the goodwill of the people and has become a target of intense Malay contempt on social media.

Had things gone according to plan, today’s presidential council meeting would have attempted to broach the sensitive transition issue, to persuade Dr Mahathir to agree to a definite date.

But the controversial Malay unity issue has taken centre stage and may have effectively sidelined the transition issue.

Dr Mahathir will have to take some bullets over his Malay unity idea today, but he may have deflected pressure to name a handover date.

Joceline Tan was an associate editor of The Star and continues to contribute political analyses. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.

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