Delaying tactic vs a numbers game

Gauntlet laid down: Anwar (left) and Muhyiddin look set for a long-drawn out battle over numbers. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star/Bernama

THE Fabian tactic could be what Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will deploy to thwart the attempt to bring down his Perikatan Nasional government.

To win with the Fabian tactic, according to, is “to wear out an opponent by delay and evasion rather than confrontation, in the style of the ancient Roman general Fabius”.

On Friday, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leader Datuk Wan Mohd Shahrir Wan Abd Jalil gave me a quick history lesson on Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, whose nickname was Cunctator, which means “the Delayer”. I called Wan Mohd Shahrir to get his take on the eventual outcome of PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s claim on Wednesday that he has a “strong, formidable majority” to form a new Federal Government.

“Anwar and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad are aggressive leaders. When Anwar and Dr Mahathir fought each other, they dragged the war out until now. But Muhyiddin is different. He will not engage his opponents in combat. He will try to settle the fight through negotiations and play the long battle of diplomacy until his enemies tire,” he said.

Eventually, Wan Mohd Shahrir predicted, Anwar’s threat will fizzle out.

In the aftershock of Anwar’s bombshell, sceptics are questioning whether the Port Dickson MP and Opposition leader has the numbers to achieve his dream of becoming a prime minister.

“I think that he is bluffing,” said Wan Mohd Shahrir, who describes himself as part of the Bersatu old guard.

“Doesn’t seem like he has 112,” said Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan, referring to the minimum number, out of 222 MPs, that the PKR president would need to form a government.

Whichever way you crunch the numbers, Anwar, with only 38 PKR MPs, doesn’t have enough MPs.

Will DAP (with 42 MPs) want to be in a government that includes Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi? Will Umno (with 39 MPs) want to be in a government with DAP?

Parti Warisan Sabah (nine MPs) has announced that it does not want to be in the same government as Umno. Yet-to-be-registered Pejuang (five MPs) has accused Anwar of not wanting its support.

Perikatan government partners – Barisan Nasional (Umno, MCA, MIC and PBRS, with 43 MPs in total), Bersatu (31 MPs), PAS (18 MPs), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (18 MPs), PBS (one MP) and Sabah STAR (one MP) – have declared they are solidly behind Muhyiddin.

However, Anwar loyalist Shahbudin Husin believes that the PKR president has 121 to 123 MPs: “Whether he can form the government depends on the King granting him an audience,” said Shahbudin, who has written several Malay-language books including Anwar The Eighth PM: A Promise To Transfer Power Which Must Be Fulfilled.

Istana Negara on Friday stated that Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah would not be granting an audience to anyone for a week as he is currently under observation at the National Heart Institute (IJN) in Kuala Lumpur.

It is still unclear whether Anwar has the numbers to be Malaysia’s ninth prime minister. What is clear is that an Umno faction linked to Ahmad Zahid has the numbers to bring down Muhyiddin’s government.

“Rogue MPs from any party could cause the fall of the government (which has 113 MPs) with its slim majority, but it would be up to them to prove it. And even perennial jumpers aren’t immune to cold feet,” said Shahril.

Wan Mohd Shahrir said that with the Perikatan government’s thin margin, three government MPs defecting would bring it down. “But the exodus from Umno will not happen. It only involves a few MPs linked to Ahmad Zahid,” he said.

These Umno MPs, according to the Bersatu politician, have nothing to gain whether Pakatan Harapan or Perikatan is the government because they do not have any positions (in the Cabinet or in government-linked corporations).

“To use a poker term, they can up the ante and try to bluff Muhyiddin that they are with Anwar. The ultimate aim of this group is to settle their legal troubles,” he said.

Shahbudin said the Umno faction might say it wants to support Anwar to form a new government. But its real intention is to cause the fall of the Perikatan government and trigger a snap election, he said.

He, however, doesn’t believe that Parliament would be dissolved because of Covid-19 and the weak economy. He also said Muhyiddin wouldn’t dare go for GE15 as Bersatu did not have strong allies.

“I foresee that Muhyiddin will offer the honourable solution and step down as prime minister and hand over the post to Anwar. Umno and DAP would also want to be in the Anwar government – that’s how it is in politics,” he said.

A Perikatan insider who did not want to be identified disagreed with Shahbudin’s scenario. He said if Muhyiddin is cornered, the Bersatu president would go for snap polls.

“When the Perikatan government was formed, Muhyiddin was already preparing for snap polls. Now it is only the seat distribution (among parties in the Perikatan coalition) that is the stumbling block. He needs two or three months – under normal circumstances – to settle it, and Muhyiddin would be ready for an election,” he said.

The Perikatan insider maintained that it is a matter of timing when Muhyiddin would call for polls. He said the prime minister would seek a fresh and stronger mandate so that he would not have to deal with bombshells such as the one Anwar dropped.

He also said it was too risky for Muhyiddin to go for a full term. “The economy is not good and unemployment is on the rise,” he said.

In his non-confrontational approach to the war Anwar declared on his premiership, Muhyiddin could win like Fabius the Delayer.

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