KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian ruling party leader Anwar Ibrahim has reached a critical juncture in his quest to become prime minister.
There is danger around him and he senses it going by the tone and urgency by which he addresses the issue of the political transition.
He has said it so many times - the succession issue will be decided by the Pakatan Harapan presidential council - yet the question keeps popping up wherever he goes.
It is a sign of the times - people out there will only believe it when they see it.
But the prime minister-in-waiting got an important endorsement from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin lately.
The Bersatu president said the power transition is "inevitable" and that it is not a question of who but when it will happen.
It was a timely rebuttal to speculation of a numbers games building up against Datuk Seri Anwar in Parliament.
Kota Baru MP Takiyuddin Hassan, who is also the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) secretary-general, told Parliament last week that PAS wants Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to serve a full term.
He said that as the chief whip for his party, "I can guarantee the support of 18 MPs for Langkawi."
The fact that Datuk Takiyuddin said this during the Budget debate was akin to the Malay phrase semboyan sudah berbunyi, that is, a siren call to war.
Hours later, six MPs from Umno also pledged allegiance to Dr Mahathir.
It was as though they were taking the cue from Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali who had earlier slammed those who wanted Dr Mahathir to step down by May next year as trying to form a backdoor government.
It is no longer a secret that the hidden hands behind the numbers game include Datuk Seri Azmin, who is the Gombak MP, and Sembrong MP Hishammuddin Hussein.
The pair have grown close over the past year and their families have even holidayed together in Morocco.
Mr Anwar has been taking shots at the pair even though he knows that Mr Azmin and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin would not be doing all this without the approval of someone higher up.
During an encounter with Mr Hishammuddin in the MPs lounge in Parliament, Mr Anwar was overheard telling the Sembrong MP: "You want to fight, I will give you war."
Mr Hishammuddin told him: "Bring it on, I'm ready."
The exchanges took place amid big smiles but the underlying tension was unmistakable, especially with the sarcastic parting shot from Mr Anwar: "Good luck, deputy prime minister."
Parliament has become the arena for the power game surrounding the succession issue.
The choreographed show of support for Dr Mahathir also lends credence to rumours that Mr Hishammuddin has been talking with Umno MPs while more senior figures like Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said have met with Dr Mahathir.
The choice of Parliament for the pro-Mahathir group to voice their allegiance is a hint that the numbers game will unfold in Parliament very soon.
Time is of the essence and the big move could likely be executed in December, possibly between Nov 28 - when the Budget is expected to be passed - and Dec 5 before Parliament adjourns.
Besides, Dr Mahathir will be doing a lot of travelling in November but he is expected to be back in time to vote on the Budget.
The long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle could also happen around then.
How and in what form the move will be executed remains a matter of speculation but tabling a motion of support for Dr Mahathir to continue beyond next year cannot be ruled out.
The aim is not about axing Mr Anwar as the successor but to postpone the handover.
The numbers in Parliament are apparently not with Mr Anwar, especially from the Sarawak and Sabah end.
But Mr Anwar is believed to have the edge within Pakatan Harapan, especially from among the huge bloc of 42 MPs from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Hence, his insistence that the succession issue is for Pakatan and not the Opposition to decide.
He has a point there because it does not make sense that the premiership should be decided by the Opposition.
The circle around Mr Anwar is adamant that the transition agreement should be respected.
They are suspicious that a deferment will lead to Dr Mahathir naming an alternative successor.
"Two years is two years. They used Anwar to get support, they used his party logo in the general election.
"Now they want to break the agreement, it will be a setback for democracy, " said Anwar loyalist and Universiti Selangor vice-chancellor Redzuan Othman.
But Dr Mahathir is someone who does not always play by the rules.
His government has not accomplished much after 17 months in power.
The euphoria over the toppling of Barisan Nasional has evaporated to the extent that some cynics joke that the docufilm, M for Malaysia, ought to be renamed "M for Mistake".
If he were to go off next May, he would have quite little to leave behind in terms of legacy.
Dr Mahathir is a man with big dreams for the nation.
He is not interested in being a figurehead prime minister and it is said that he dislikes how the noise over the power transition has relegated him to being a seat warmer.
Dr Mahathir is still without a doubt, the glue holding the Pakatan government together and arguably the only one who understands how the government functions.
He is deeply concerned about how the uncertainty surrounding the transition is affecting the economy and wants to end the speculation so that he can move the economy forward.
It would be a mistake for those around Mr Anwar to attempt to send Dr Mahathir off to pasture until he is ready to go.
Dr Mahathir can be a dangerous man when he is angry.
He has toppled two prime ministers before this and there is no need to give him cause to do it again.
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.