Malaysia GE: It is a Mahathir tsunami

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gestures to the media at the end of a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on May 12, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) It has been a rollercoaster week in politics.

For some politicians it has been the most euphoric ride of their life, for others a ride through hell. As for journalists, it has been an experience of a lifetime as they watched history unfold from a ringside seat.

The rollercoaster has yet to come to a halt and by the time it does, the entire political landscape of Malaysia is going to be utterly different.

For several days after the stunning election outcome, the media struggled to keep up with the speed at which events unfolded, from the swearing-in of the new Prime Minister to the formation of his Cabinet.

It took great effort to keep up with politicking and horse-trading going on in the states that had fallen in such great numbers.

The state governments of Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Selangor, Melaka, Johor and Sabah are up and their respective Mentris Besar and Chief Minister have been sworn in.

Kedah must be experiencing some cosmic force - the late Sultan of Kedah became the King twice in his lifetime, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is Prime Minister for the second time and his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir is once again Mentri Besar of Kedah. That is a pretty amazing trio of coincidences.

But Mukhriz will be presiding over a minority government because Kedah has a hung assembly.

Barisan Nasional had tried to form a coalition government (15 from PAS and three from Umno) but it is understood that the Kedah palace saw Pakatan's solid bloc of 18 assemblymen as the more stable entity.

An online portal reported that Barisan's Datuk Suraya Yaakob, the Sungai Tiang assemblywoman had joined the Pakatan government in Kedah.

Suraya was known to be close to Mukhriz during his first stint as Mentri Besar but she has no intention of leaving Umno. She said there had been endless calls from the other side since election night to get her to cross over.

She was really cross at the fake news about her, especially when she had to spend three hours on her phone denying it and pacifying her friends from all over.

Perak, which also struggled with a hung assembly, finally had a government led by Pakatan.

It was a sort of vindication for Pakatan supporters who had never quite gotten over the 2008 take-over.

PAS whom some analysts had predicted would win zero seats is now the government in Terengganu and Kelantan.

It singlehandedly won both states with comfortable majorities and a total of 15 seats in Kedah. The anti-Umno votes in the Malay crescent states swung in a big way to PAS.

Political intrigue hangs over Perlis which has yet to form a government even though Barisan won by a comfortable majority.

There is a stand-off over the Mentri Besar post. An Umno warlord has insisted on having his brother as the Mentri Besar while the palace is considering another candidate.

In Sabah, a government appeared to be in place in the morning but seemed to be gone by afternoon as long-time nemeses, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and Tan Sri Musa Aman, wrestled to take control, each claiming to have the numbers.

Cash is king in Sabah and both Shafie and Musa have immense war chests to play the money game.

As of press time, Shafie appears to have secured the numbers to become Chief Minister.

But the new man is not going to be able to sleep well at night. A government formed by cross-overs is never stable, it is old politics and cannot command the moral high ground.

While new faces have come in as Mentris Besar in so many states, Pahang reappointed Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob for a fifth term as Mentri Besar.

And that, said political commentator Dr Azmi Omar, is the problem with Umno.

"PAS has appointed an aerospace scientist as its MB in Terengganu. Have you seen the background of their candidates? They have graduates and even their ustaz are from universities. Some of the Umno candidates in Terengganu have only Form 5 schooling and one of them studied only until Form 3," said Dr Azmi.

Two of the Wanita Umno candidates in Terengganu were dubbed "menopause candidates" because they were in their 70s and they lost.

In contrast, PAS Mentri Besar in Terengganu Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar is a former university don and political secretary to the PAS president.

The PAS list of candidates everywhere suggests that it is serious about transforming its image from that of a party of village preachers to one led by professionals and well-educated religious scholars.

On Thursday evening, photos of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim watching the live telecast of the new Prime Minister being sworn in at the national palace went viral.

He was still at the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital and Malaysia's special prisoner was watching together with his guests who included PKR leaders Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, Shamsul Iskandar, Dr Afif Bahardin and Sivarasa Rasiah.

Such visits are never purely social in nature, and one can only guess at what they were there for.

The delegation were there for more than three hours, sharing a meal and chatting as they waited for the live telecast to begin.

Anwar, said one of those present, was upbeat about the election result and eager to leave prison.

The next day, news that Anwar would be released that very day spread like wild fire but Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said her husband would be out in a week's time.

Anwar as a free man is going to add more oxygen to the political dynamics.

But the most electrifying news of all was that Barisan in Sarawak may join the Pakatan government.

A Sarawak minister confirmed that Governor Tun Taib Mahmud had met with Dr Mahathir and Tun Daim Zainuddin in Kuala Lumpur. If Sarawak comes along, it will give Pakatan an invaluable foothold in that region of the country.

The nature of the hook-up is unclear because they certainly cannot go in under the Barisan banner. They may have to join as individual parties or as a new state coalition.

The additional MPs from Sarawak will give Pakatan a more solid footing in Parliament because its current 121 Parliament seat count is rather too precarious for comfort, especially given that eight of those seats come from Warisan in Sabah where the frog culture prevails.

No other Malaysian election has produced so much drama and twists and turns. Then again, this is the first time the federal government has fallen.

The second coming of Dr Mahathir has made international news. They find it bizarre yet fascinating that he is making a comeback at 92 and he has been described as the oldest elected leader in the world.

But power has been like an elixir for him. His voice sounds strong, his breathlessness has disappeared and he looks energised.

He obviously had trouble on the hectic campaign trail but watching him go about the business of pulling together his complex victory suggests that the man has not lost that indomitable will to get things done his way.

His experience came through. He could anticipate situations and problems and, at the same time, there was his usual sparkling wit and sarcasm when dealing with the media.

He outshone the other party component leaders, many of whom looked completely overwhelmed by the weight of their victory.

But the new ruling coalition is still treading water at this point in time.

"He is a man in a rush, so much to do, so little time to do it in but he reads the ground well. For now, he has to hold the ship together and build confidence and trust in his government," said former Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi.

According to Rita Sim, founder of the CENSE think tank, Pakatan secured some 5.8 million votes or about 48% of the popular vote.

Sim estimated that about three million of those votes came from the super Chinese tsunami, while most of the remaining votes came from Malay support.

That makes them the most multi-racial of the three coalitions, and that will be their strength in the coming years.

The Malay votes went three ways this time around but thanks to Dr Mahathir, Pakatan managed to draw its share of Malay votes even without the help of PAS.

Malays, who otherwise would not have thrown their support behind a coalition domi­nated by DAP, saw in Dr Mahathir a safe pair of hands, a reassuring figure and a guarantor of their concerns over race and religion.

However, Pakatan's Malay support fell short in some places which explains why Pakatan had trouble forming the government in Kedah and Perak.

Barisan secured 34% or around four million votes which Sim estimates to be largely Malay votes given that an overwhelming number of Chinese had voted against it.

PAS defied predictions of sudden death, securing two million votes or about 17% of the popular vote.

While one side is basking in the euphoria of victory, the other side will struggle to pick up the pieces.

Politics in Malaysia has never been boring but it has never been this interesting.

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