SIX months ago, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali observed that PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was on track to become Malaysia’s eight Prime Minister.
Back then, Mazlan said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar were the ideal combination in Pakatan Harapan, as the former had agreed that he would fix the country’s political and economical problems and then, in two years, hand over the premiership to the latter.
However, in the last one month, the political analyst noted, the plan has gone off track.
He said Tun is considering several issues connected to current political developments. Firstly, the prime minister needs at least three years to improve the country’s economy.
“In Bangkok, Tun made a statement that he would not be PM for more than three years. It is a signal that Tun needs more time,” he said.
Secondly, Mazlan said Dr Mahathir has not given a time frame for when he will quit as prime minister.
“That is why pro-Anwar people urged Tun to set a time for the transfer of power. Tun did not give any answer,” he pointed out.
Thirdly, the political analyst said, Dr Mahathir has stated that he will not hand over power as long as there is no political stability.
And a lack of stability has indeed emerged in the past month, says Mazlan, pointing to the sex video scandal involving Anwar’s rival, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
Anwar’s political position became shaky when party members questioned whether he was behind the scandal.
“The challenge by Azmin is formidable. He is a deputy president who won in a party poll. This shows that Azmin has influence in PKR,” he said.
Basically, Mazlan said, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman Dr Mahathir cannot hand over power to Anwar while the PKR president was facing an internal challenge.
“Even though three years have been mentioned, if Anwar can’t solve his problems in PKR and the crisis continues, I expect Tun will continue to be PM till the term ends (in four years with GE15),” he said.
“The track has changed, but it was not changed purposely and leaders from Bersatu, DAP and Amanah and some in PKR will not think that Tun has betrayed the earlier timeline because of the current political situation.”
On whether Dr Mahathir also has to stay on longer as prime minister to strengthen his own party, Mazlan said there is a possibility that Umno would be deregistered. If that happened, he said, Bersatu will try to fill the political vacuum, especially in Malay politics.
At the same time, the political analyst said, the Bersatu chairman has to make sure before he steps down that his party will survive in Pakatan.
Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi observed that six months ago, Anwar’s chances of becoming Prime Minister was 80%. But in the last one month, his chances have dropped by 10%.
First, Awang Azman said, there was the proxy fight between Azmin and Rafizi Ramli for the PKR deputy president post. Now, there is a proxy fight between Azmin and Anwar.
“Now, when Dr Mahathir berdolah dalih (vacillates) we can see the real fight is between him and Anwar.
“In the near future, it will be clearer. What you see now is all kinds of speculations and interpretations, such as that there will be a Cabinet reshuffle supposedly or several arrests involving PH leadership,” he said.
“The last six months had many political intrigues which we could not interpret directly – we had to interpret them tersirat (implicitly) or in hindsight.
“This is politics as played by Dr Mahathir, who is known to be cunning, strategic fighter. Anwar is also a fighter. Elephant and elephant are currently fighting.”
Anwar’s 10% drop, according to Awang Azman, is due to the sex video implicating Azmin. There is talk that the sex video mastermind is linked to Anwar, as those who have been arrested are connected to him.
“This talk can affect the prime minister who right now still supports Anwar 55%, and if it goes down to 6% then Anwar’s political future will go over,” he said.
Sacked Santubong PKR youth chief Haziq Abdullah Abdul Aziz, the main actor in the sex video, has alleged that his partner was Azmin. It is an allegation that Azmin has denied vehemently.
Who are the winners and losers in the scandal?
Both Mazlan and Awang Azman agreed that the winner is Dr Mahathir.
“At least he doesn’t have to worry that his power is threatened,” said Awang Azman.
“Anwar and Azmin fighting each other can be used as an excuse by Dr Mahathir not to step down as PM because Anwar should focus on handling internal party problems first,” he said.
He added that Anwar and Azmin are equal losers in the sex video scandal.
Mazlan agreed, saying the scandal “gives Tun an excuse to extend his time as PM, as Tun has said he won’t quit if there is no political stability”.
The scandal, said Mazlan, has reduced Azmin to a minister who has no negotiating power. The public’s perception is that he’s linked to the sex video even though there’s is no official confirmation.
“At the same time, Azmin’s political life depends on Tun because the Prime Minister has the prerogative to keep whoever he thinks can work in his Cabinet.
“Dr Mahathir has said he does not want to be used in this issue. This shows that Azmin can still survive in politics because of Tun,” he said.
Who will become prime minister is a numbers game. Anwar has declared that he has the numbers to replace Dr Mahathir. Who really has the numbers?
Mazlan believes that Dr Mahathir is now on track to stay on as PM, as he has support from Sabah and Sarawak.
The Bornean states, he argued, do not care who is in power at the Federal level. What is important to them is how to increase their negotiation powers for a better deal for their states, he said.
“Sabah, no problem, as Bersatu is strong.
“(Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri) Shafie Apdal has no problem giving support to Tun. In Sarawak, the chief minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg) is focusing on Federalism,” he said.
In Peninsular Malaysia, Mazlan said, with their uncertain future, most of Umno leaders have no choice but to support Dr Mahathir.
Flexible PAS, with its 18 MPs for the sake of maslahat (general good) of its Islam struggle, will support the Prime Minister, he said.
Amanah and Bersatu will support Dr Mahathir, while DAP, said Mazlan, is divided between those who support Tun and Anwar.
As for PKR, he said, it is clear that Anwar and Azmin are fighting each other.
He believes that the party’s deputy president has about half of the 50 PKR MPs and they would support Dr Mahathir.
Awang Azman believes that Dr Mahathir has the numbers because he is the prime minister.
“He is the PM. It is difficult for him to be defeated. His hold on the Cabinet and PH component parties is strong.
“As long as he is PM, he has many mechanisms like the police, the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), Inland Revenue Board and Registrar of Societies,” he said.
Anwar too has the numbers, said Awang Azman, especially with the Pakatan presidential council’s agreement that he will be prime minister after Dr Mahathir.
On who is with who, the sociopolitics professor said 80% of DAP supports Anwar, a significant number of Amanah MPs – even though its president favours Dr Mahathir – are with the PKR president.
Some MPs in Bersatu support Anwar, he said, as the party is divided into two camps, behind chairman Dr Mahathir and president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Shafie’s Parti Warisan Sabah is more comfortable with Anwar, he contended. As for Umno, he said Anwar still has a link with leaders such as president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
PAS leans more towards Dr Mahathir, said Awang Azman. PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang favoured Dr Mahathir.
“I know that there are PAS MPs who support Anwar, but they respect the leadership of Hadi,” he said.
For Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), Awang Azman contended that they favour Anwar, as the PKR president has a long relationship GPS chairman Abang Johari. However, he said, Dr Mahathir is close with Sarawak Governor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is close to GPS.
The Anwar dream of becoming Prime Minister has gone off track. If the PKR president doesn’t settle his internal party problems, it might derail completely.