IT had been the quietest week in a long while for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who turns 95 today (July 10).
The “birthday boy” sort of dropped off the political radar after his push for Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal to be Pakatan Harapan’s prime minister (PM) candidate fell through.
He kept mum about Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s recent anointment as Pakatan’s PM candidate, and some even thought he was preparing to ride into the sunset.
Those who know him well found his silence unnerving, and they could feel that something was brewing.
However, Dr Mahathir did take to social media to mark the 35th year of one of his babies, the Proton Saga, with pictures of himself looking so young and handsome as he steered the car over the Penang Bridge.
“Still going strong. Happy birthday Proton Saga, ” he wrote in his famous slanting cursive script.
Dr Mahathir’s silence was finally broken earlier this afternoon when he and the former Bersatu MPs aligned to him dropped a bombshell to announce that they still prefer Shafie as the PM candidate and will not go along with the choice of Anwar.
The group of six MPs made the decision after a meeting at the Yayasan Bukhary where Dr Mahathir is usually based on Fridays.
It basically revealed that Dr Mahathir had never meant to pass the baton to Anwar.
In that sense, the PKR president and Opposition leader was totally justified in not trusting his long-time nemesis.
The awkward thing is that there will now be two PMs-in-waiting on the Opposition bench.
What this also means is that Pakatan cannot assume that Shafie, who is Warisan president, will go along with whatever the coalition wants or does from now on.
The cohesiveness of the Opposition will be put to the test when Parliament convenes on July 13.
The upcoming meeting of Parliament will not only be a decisive test for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin but also a test of the leadership of Anwar as the Opposition leader.
Muhyiddin’s motion to put up a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker is widely seen as test of numbers and ultimately a test of his strength.
The matter of how many MPs are with Perikatan Nasional has never been confirmed, although the March meeting of Parliament, going by the sitting arrangement, offered a glimpse of the narrow edge that he has over Pakatan.
The upcoming session, which would probably require a vote to appoint Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun, better known by his Art Harun nom de plume, as the new Speaker and Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said as the Deputy Speaker, should provide some confirmation of the numbers.
The assumption is that Muhyiddin is confident of the numbers or else he would not be the one moving the motion.
Speculation from the Perikatan side about their numbers range from a realistic 114 MPs to a fantastical 127 MPs.
Fortunately for Anwar, the Dr Mahathir group has committed to support the coalition bid to retain Tan Sri Mohd Ariff Md Yusof and Nga Kor Ming as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively.
Shafie, who has nine MPs, is likely to do the same.
A source close to Shafie said there is no reason why Warisan MPs would not go along with Pakatan to retain the current Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
“Warisan may not be with Anwar but we are against Perikatan, ” said the Shafie insider.
Anwar had indicated last month that Pakatan has 107 MPs.
Even if the Opposition fails to retain the current Speaker and his deputy, Anwar would be able to hold his head high if he is able to maintain that kind of numbers for the Opposition bench.
It would mean that the Opposition, although divided on the PM choice, can still come together on common issues.
Every single MP counts in this tight race for control of Parliament and that is why Pakatan cannot afford to offend either Dr Mahathir or Shafie, who have between them a total of 15 MPs.
Many thought that Dr Mahathir had run out of cards to play but he still has a few more up his sleeve, he can still do damage to either side because he is such a potent newsmaker.
Muhyiddin, on the other hand, is enjoying extremely good approval ratings especially among the Malays and Indians.
He has managed to provide some degree of stability and direction amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
His no-drama style of politics has gone down well with a populace that is sick and tired of the non-stop politicking of the past few years.
Muhyiddin’s party is the weak link in Perikatan but he has become its best selling point.
“The credibility of the government has not been confirmed yet, but the credibility of the PM is very high, ” said author and cultural activist Eddin Khoo.
Khoo finds Muhyiddin to be so unlike either Dr Mahathir or Anwar.
“He is taciturn, does not speak much, is avuncular like some sort of uncle – but you can see the weight on his shoulders.
“He has won the day so far. At the moment, I don’t see any viable alternative to Muhyiddin, ” said Khoo.
But Muhyiddin will still need to win the day, next Monday (July 13).
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