More changes ahead?: The Star columnist

In a picture taken on Jul 15, 2019, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia.
In a picture taken on Jul 15, 2019, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia. PHOTO: REUTERS

In his commentary, the writer says that rumblings of another revamp to the country's administrative landscape is expected to keep eyeballs peeled on newsfeeds.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Without doubt, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the master politician! Like or loathe him, he has set a few records which no one in the world can match.

At 95 years old, he is the oldest Prime Minister in the world and his supporters, including the Opposition now, want him to remain in office. That's unimaginable, though.

He is also the only PM in Malaysia to have been reappointed to the position for a second time, and still holds the record for being the longest serving PM in the two decades of his first tenure.

And now, he is set for another record - the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) is said to be ready to initiate a motion at the Dewan Rakyat next month to express support for Dr Mahathir.

The Islamist party, an Opposition party, is defying logic. Instead of making moves to dispose of a serving PM from the ruling party, it, in fact, wants to keep Dr Mahathir on.

There are two ways of looking at this - PAS wants to elevate Dr Mahathir to strike a deal, which could involve being in government, or, the party views the nonagenarian as such a liability to Pakatan Harapan (PH) that he could be the ultimate self-saboteur in the ruling coalition.

After all, surveys have showed that Dr Mahathir's popularity has taken a plunge, with one study showing that Pakatan's 87 per cent popularity in GE14 had dropped significantly to 35 per cent by the first half of 2019. Pakatan has also lost in four consecutive by-elections.

Since last year, PAS leaders have openly declared that its 18 MPs will back Dr Mahathir if a no confidence motion is placed on him.

This time, when the Dewan Rakyat sits from March 11, PAS wants to turn the tables and submit a vote of confidence.

 
 
 

For a vote of confidence to succeed in the Dewan Rakyat, it must have the support of at least 112 out of 222 MPs.

There's another peculiarity - many PKR MPs, headed by deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, want to retain Dr Mahathir at the helm instead of his own party chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Now, that's also unprecedented.

Last week, Dr Mahathir said he welcomed support for him, including from Umno and PAS, saying, "Anybody supporting me, I feel like floating."

Kuala Lumpur has been abuzz with speculation that moves are being made to create a new alignment, supposedly called Pakatan Nasional, comprising Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and some MPs from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), PAS and Umno - leaving Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Anwar's loyalists out in the cold.

DAP has struggled for acceptance in Malay politics, with Malay Pakatan politicians admitting that the DAP has been a burden for them, saying that party's leaders suffer from image problems and the inability to be embraced by the Malay community.

It has also failed to win over the hearts and minds of senior civil servants at Putrajaya, and the lack of endearment has caused a debilitating fallout, with senior officials perceiving that they've been shut out.

 
 
 

Ironically, the DAP is also losing the support of the Chinese community (whose disdain for the party has increasingly grown), plotting a downfall of hero to zero in a little over a year. It having a sizeable 42 MPs isn't a lost point, either.

PAS has openly said that a written agreement was drafted to show its commitment to Dr Mahathir until the 15th General Election, in the interest of religion, race and country.

Its secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan has also reportedly said that they had met Dr Mahathir to discuss issues relating to oil royalties, as well as representation for the economic action council in PAS-led states Terengganu and Kelantan.

It appears that besides political appointments, PAS wants more money from the federal government for the two states under its control, particularly for cash-strapped Kelantan. It has one of the worst logging abuse records in Malaysia, where even Orang Asli land has been encroached on.

Playing with a toxic concoction of race and religion, and Malay dominance, it's clear the message to Anwar and DAP is that they shouldn't even think of asking Dr Mahathir to retire soon.

While there is an agreement that Anwar will succeed Dr Mahathir, as stated clearly in the signed document, there is no mention of when that will take place. It doesn't say two years or three years.

And there's another catch - the Federal Constitution also stipulates that the PM must have the majority support of the members of Parliament.

 
 
 

Basically, the agreement isn't good enough if Anwar doesn't have the numbers.

Regardless of it being either a vote of confidence or no confidence, the numbers are needed.

It looks like the former is easier, and if fellow Pakatan MPs, especially those from PKR, DAP or Amanah, decline to throw their support behind Dr Mahathir, it would look odd. It will be as good as a no faith call, without the need for a formal motion even.

The common assumption, among political players and analysts, is that the players seem to have issues with gaining committed numbers.

With PAS in the picture, splinter party Amanah will find it weird to get back with PAS. PAS has 18 MPs against Amanah's 11.

The overtures have been made to Umno's Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, and even its president Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi, who has over 50 corruption charges staring at him.

His critics have said he seems prepared to work with Dr Mahathir to save his skin.

Controversial Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam has declared the two and other Umno leaders - in a series of videos - infected with Kerala Virus, referencing Dr Mahathir's ancestral home in India's southern west coast.

 
 
 

Lokman also sensationally released an audio recording claiming that Zahid had tried to convince party leaders during a meeting that Umno needs to work with Dr Mahathir.

On Friday (Feb 7), the Umno supreme council announced that Lokman has been given the boot.

If the forming of Pakatan Nasional isto be believed, it can't be legitimate for it to brand itself a Malay and Muslim platform. PAS, with its unwavering commitment to setting up an Islamic state, may want it

that way, but that's not Dr Mahathir's thinking.

He is cunning enough to realise that without Sabah and Sarawak, it won't be possible to form a federal government - whether via the front door, back door or any door. In fact, Pakatan Nasional will be shown the exit door if it's all about Malays and Muslims.

Malaysia is a multiracial country and any ruling government needs multiracial representation in the Cabinet.

The Sarawak political alliance of Gabungan Parti Sarawak has no love for PAS, and for that matter, it has no interest in backing any peninsula politicians who have failed them.

GPS comprises Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Their sole priority now is to win the Sarawak state elections this year, and it can only do so on its own - not with Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan. This is also the best time for Chinese-based parties in GPS to wrest back seats from PKR and DAP, which have three and seven seats respectively.

GPS has announced that it will remain independent and look after the state's interests, as it dismissed talk of joining any coalition.

However, the real winner from the outcome of the manoeuvring seems to be PAS - which is being courted by Barisan via Mufakat Nasional, and now, the so-called Pakatan Nasional.

PAS is extracting the highest price on its part, and it knows that all the Malay-based parties need its solid votes. The six by-elections have proven that an election can only be won with PAS' votes. That is the political reality.

Despite pledging its support for Dr Mahathir, that still didn't stop PAS from campaigning for Barisan in the Tanjung Piai by-election to ensure the defeat of Dr Mahathir's Bersatu.

Succession planning has always been Dr Mahathir's biggest flaw, intentional or otherwise, and if he succeeds in staying on, then he has created two other records.

Anwar will be the world's longest PM in waiting, and, unbelievably, may not even get to it. And the best part is, he has wreaked havoc with disunity in PKR, and now Umno.

Without doubt, he is at his best or worst when he reveals his Machiavellian streak, and it would be naive to think that he has changed, or mellowed, after all these years.

The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.