The Mahathir-Anwar handshake and what it means: Sin Chew Daily

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (centre left) meets with jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (centre right) in a high court in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 5, 2016.
Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (centre left) meets with jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (centre right) in a high court in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 5, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Politics can turn the wrestling arms into those exchanging warm handshakes, turning the impossible into possible.

It is more than just an art form, but more of a gamble, of which both Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim are the masters.

The handshake had been painstakingly designed and executed during that brief period of time Anwar was out of the prison, artfully manipulated to amplify the NSC Act issue.

The meeting didn't need to take place in a formal setting with a joint statement issued. All it took was a firm handshake that instantly drew the focus of cameras.

A handshake does not imply that all previous antagonisms are now obliterated, or some sort of reconciliation.

It is not just a manifestation of a simplified logic that the enemy of an enemy is a friend, but a much larger game that puts aside past ill-feelings to pool the resources of both sides together for a common cause.

Mahathir alone will never rock the foundation of Najib; nor will Anwar and the forces rallying behind him.

Mahathir has what is lacking in Anwar, and in Anwar Mahathir can find what he is looking for.

Mahathir signifies the conservative power in the Malay community, while Anwar is the undebatable spiritual leader of the reform movement.

Outside of Umno, Mahathir is perhaps the only person, if any, I can think of who can muster the support of conservative Malays by means of Malay nationalism.

But given his past style and image, even if he is still capable of winning the support of the traditional Malay society, he has alienated the young, urban and reform-minded Malays, a group of people that right from the onset of Reformasi has teamed up with Anwar Ibrahim.

On the contrary, even though Anwar has firmly secured the support of this group of Malays, he fails to get the approval of the traditional rural Malay community. His alliance with DAP has further estranged him from these people.

Theoretically a tie between Mahathir and Anwar should symbolize a marriage between the conservative and reformative camps which collectively will take a big chunk out of Umno's support base, putting it in a big disadvantage.

Many middle voters in the Malay society are not really happy with Umno, but given the fact that there isn't a sufficiently powerful alternative Malay force in the opposition camp that could provide them with a more substantial sense of security, these people have opted to vote for Umno.

The reconciliation between Mahathir and Anwar and their combined strength should provide that additional dose of security sense that will hopefully lure them towards the opposition.

Having calculated the gains and risks, the two former sworn rivals believe this is a game worth playing in order to shake the fortress of Umno and Najib.

This, nevertheless, is just a game. It is yet to be known whether Mahathir has the capacity to pull the conservative Umno supporters to his side.

But on the flip side of the game, opposition supporters might leave in frustration with Mahathir's participation, and those already supporting Mahathir might just back off seeing him courting the opposition.

And since this is a game, any eventuality is possible.