WHO can make a political comeback?
A) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
B) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
C) Datuk Seri Najib Razak
D) None of the above
I posed this question to two political analysts. I was curious to know whether Dr Mahathir could make a second comeback as Prime Minister. The first was when he did the near-impossible and became PM again in 2018.
Anwar was a heartbeat from becoming PM in the 1990s when he was Deputy Prime Minister to then fourth PM Dr Mahathir. He then failed to become the fifth and eighth PM. Could he become Malaysia’s ninth PM?
Can Najib do a Dr Mahathir and come back as our next PM?
Universiti Utara Malaysia political lecturer Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani pointed out that we shouldn’t disregard these seasoned leaders: “Anything can happen in our politics. Things can change quickly. There could be a snap election around the corner. That is the reality of Malaysian politics now. (Politicians) could pull something to bring them back as the top leadership of our country, ” he said.
All of them, according to Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, have a 50/50 chance of making a political comeback.
But many Malaysians are not aware that the trio is still in the political game, he observed. The Covid-19 pandemic has the rakyat less focused on politics and more worried about their health and financial wellbeing.
Prof Awang Azman pointed out that the Langkawi MP is still the chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as he won the position uncontested. He can use that to take on Bersatu president and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. As chairman, Dr Mahathir arguably has the final say on party matters.
And he is still influential in Bersatu. Although Dr Mahathir has only about four or five Bersatu MPs overtly behind him, Prof Awang Azman believes that there are 12 to 15 Bersatu MPs quietly with Team Mahathir, in wait-and-see mode.
There are also Umno MPs who Dr Mahathir could pull. PAS, Prof Awang Azman said, is lalang (a weed, moving with the breeze) and “once Dr Mahathir gets support, the Islamist party would follow”.
“If Pakatan Harapan and Parti Warisan Sabah are solid behind Dr Mahathir and he can get a few MPs from Bersatu, he can return as PM, ” he said.
(How many MPs the current Perikatan Nasional – or PN – government has is still not clear. It probably has 113 MPs, and the Opposition, 109. If two PN MPs defect, it could cause a hung Parliament.)
Prof Mohd Azizuddin said Dr Mahathir still has the ambition to make a political comeback. He still wants to lead Bersatu, he said. However, he notes Bersatu is a divided party, as it is split between Team Mahathir and Team Muhyiddin.
Dr Mahathir, he added, still has substantial support.
Prof Mohd Azizuddin said the Port Dickson MP looks solid. The PKR president now controls the party outright after 11 MPs (including former PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and former PKR vice-president Zuraida Kamaruddin) were sacked.
“At least he has strengthened his position in the party as he has gotten rid of the cartel (Team Azmin). Meaning, now all in PKR are his loyalists. At the same time, Amanah and DAP seem to be supporting him, ” he said.
(Pakatan Harapan has 92 MPs: 42 from DAP, 39 from PKR and 11 from Amanah.)
Prof Awang Azman agreed that the “cleansing” of PKR has been advantageous for Anwar. He also wondered if sacked leaders like Azmin and Zuraida could win in the 15th General Election as they would not be contesting under the PKR logo.
The PKR president has the skills to attract MPs to build a new political landscape, Prof Awang Azman felt. Before GE14, even though he was in jail, prominent politicians like Dr Mahathir contacted him as they knew Anwar has political strength, he said.
Prof Awang Azman pointed out that even though the Pekan MP is entangled in the 1MDB financial scandal, he is still popular, especially with the Malay working class. The former Umno president also controls at least one-third of Umno.
“If he can combine with Zahid or Mohamad Hasan, he can get back in power even if Hishammuddin doesn’t support him, ” he said, referring to Umno president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, and Najib’s cousin, Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
Prof Mohd Azizuddin said Najib still has support in Umno. But whether he can come back would depend on Umno factions such as Team Zahid and Team Mohamad accepting him: “I suspect it would be difficult for Najib to get back his Umno president post. But as we say in politics, anything can happen, ” he said.
The new normal in Malaysian politics is political uncertainty, said Prof Mohd Azizuddin.
“We are not sure if PN has enough of a majority. They claim to have 114 MPs but the margin is so small. Any change in the position of MPs and the government could collapse, ” he said.
If not for the Covid-19 pandemic, according to him, there are factions in Umno raring to force a snap poll. They are confident that Muafakat Nasional (the Umno-PAS alliance) and its allies could win enough seats in GE15 to form a government with an Umno MP as Prime Minister.
If the government collapses, seasoned politicians like Dr Mahathir, Anwar and Najib will know how to pounce.
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