KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Three men may determine what happens in Putrajaya in the coming weeks.
Two harbour hopes of becoming the next prime minister whereas the third has been prime minister twice.
Umno veteran leader Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are basically staring down each other for the premiership while former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has thrown his support behind one of them.
It is quite evident by now that Razaleigh, or Ku Li as he better known, and Dr Mahathir have joined forces to stop Anwar from claiming the prime minister job.
"We are looking at the coming together of two former adversaries to defeat Anwar," said Azmi Anshar, a media consultant and an insider to recent political developments.
A group photo of Dr Mahathir, Ku Li and Dr Mahathir's wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali (Ku Li and Siti Hasmah are holding hands, by the way) has been making the rounds.
The message they are sending out is that despite their problematic history, the two men have bonded over a common enemy.
They are old rivals but also equals in a way - Dr Mahathir calls Razaleigh "Li" while Razaleigh is one of the very few politicians around who addresses the elder man as "Mahathir".
Azmi said the publication of Razaleigh's letter urging the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to expedite a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that Dr Mahathir had submitted back in March was a deliberate move.
"It was done with a purpose. At one level, it is aimed at Muhyiddin. At another level, it is to clear the air and dispel claims out there that his audience with the King was in support of Anwar.
"Ku Li is not with Anwar. He is telling Anwar and Muhyiddin that the constitutional way out of the impasse is to put the numbers to a test in Parliament," said Azmi.
According to Azmi, Ku Li may be looking to form a "unity government" comprising political parties as well as individual MPs.
There is a big Malay power play going on and it involves several groups, each pushing their own agenda and objective.
Apart from the Anwar takeover bid and the Mahathir-Ku Li blockade, Umno is flexing its muscles in the background.
Umno's threat to pull out of the Perikatan Nasional government was only part of the story coming from the party's political bureau meeting on Wednesday.
It is learnt that Umno has issued a multi-pronged ultimatum to the Prime Minister.
The first demand is to appoint a deputy prime minister from Umno on the grounds that the party is the biggest in the ruling coalition.
It is obvious that the demand is to position the party for the top job after the next general election.
The second demand is for a mini Cabinet reshuffle to accord more "grassroots portfolios" to Umno.
Umno also wants the Prime Minister to set up a presidential council so that all parties can give input on important policies.
Umno leaders have been unhappy about what they regard as inconsequential portfolios given to its ministers while Bersatu ministers were given portfolios like rural development and agriculture.
"We were patient but we won't be bullied anymore. What happened in Sabah was an important lesson.
"They (Bersatu) took our seats, they put independents against us, then they took the Chief Minister post," said an Umno warlord from Melaka.
An Umno insider said the deputy prime minister post need not necessarily go to party president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
"From what I understand, the party has indicated that it should go to "someone senior" and who has the experience for the job.
"It could be Zahid, Mat Hasan (deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan), Ismail Sabri (vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri) or even Datuk Seri Annuar Musa," said the insider.
Johor Umno deputy chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said the tough stance his party president has taken of late has "100 per cent support" from the party grassroots.
"This is not about his court case. Zahid has tried to accommodate the government but from now on, we want him to be firm about what the party wants," said Nur Jazlan.
Umno leaders at the political bureau meeting were reluctant to confirm it, but it was learnt that Zahid admitted issuing a "support letter" to Anwar for the latter's audience with the King.
The meeting accepted his explanation that it was a "tactical move" to show Umno can be the kingmaker and that without Umno MPs, neither side will have the numbers to form the government.
"It has been a crazy week in politics. Now we know who our friends and enemies are, as well as the frogs and snakes," said Umno supreme council member and Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.
Like many in Umno, Alwi was taken aback by Ku Li's move.
Ku Li is an adviser to Umno, but the party was not in the loop about what the Kelantan prince was up to.
But that is Ku Li - he has a mind of his own and is not afraid to say and do what he thinks is right.
The irony about Ku Li and Anwar is that the premiership has been that elusive dream for both.
Or as Alwi put it, the pair "kena game" by Dr Mahathir. By that, he meant that Dr Mahathir had "played out" the two men at certain chapters of their career.
The Malay power play is still unfolding and the end is not in sight.
However, things may reach a critical juncture during the Budget session of Parliament when Muhyiddin will need to muster the votes to get Budget 2021 approved.
A perfect storm is swirling around Muhyiddin. The seasoned politician has weathered many storms, but can he ride out through this one?
The writer is a columnist with The Star. The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media titles.