News analysis

Will Mahathir get his vote in Parliament for a unity Cabinet? The answer is still blowing in the wind

Malaysia's interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad smiles during a press conference after unveiling an economic stimulus plan at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya on Feb 27, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's appearance during his televised address a couple of days ago shocked many people.

He looked pale and tired although his voice was clear and strong. He did not smile even once and, most of all, he sounded somewhat defeated.

But on Thursday (Feb 27), in his second live telecast in a week - this time, to present the Economic Stimulus Package - he seemed to have recovered his spirits.

Had his government not fallen, his Cabinet ministers would have been there to show their support.

Instead, he was surrounded by top civil servants who are now running the show and, as some joked, these government technocrats might actually be doing a better job than some of the former ministers.

The interim Prime Minister was his old, confident self, smiling as he fielded questions from the media and he looked quite handsome in a pink-striped shirt and polka-dotted tie.

More important, what he said at the press conference that followed provided the first important indication of what lies ahead in the unending political crisis.

Dr Mahathir was still set on implementing his brainchild of a non-partisan government or what might be more accurately described as a unity Cabinet.

It will comprise politicians with expertise and experience, as well as capable professionals sourced from outside.

The unity Cabinet, in his mind, will probably be able to carry out what the previous Cabinet of pure politicians did not have the expertise or experience for.

Dr Mahathir also revealed that he had been informed by the palace that no individual had emerged with majority support to be named prime minister.

 
 
 
 

Then he ever so casually dropped the bombshell that the matter would be put to the vote at a special sitting of Parliament this Monday.

Whoever secures the vote of confidence in Parliament on March 2 will be eligible to be prime minister.

Dr Mahathir indicated that he would accept whoever secured the vote of confidence and that he would be all right if his own party president Muhyiddin Yassin was the one.

But as everyone noted, there was no mention whatsoever of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the man who has long been projected as the eighth prime minister.

The omission has become a pattern that annoys supporters of Mr Anwar and which, rightly or wrongly, sends the message that Dr Mahathir never meant to pass the torch to him.

Very little has gone right for Dr Mahathir in the past few days as the nation watched transfixed at one failed effort after another by the parties involved to form a new government.

And the irony is that it was his sudden resignation as prime minister that set off the unfortunate chain of events leading to the current mess - a nation in limbo.

The interim Prime Minister's heart also appears to be much stronger than most people thought and he seems to be weathering the stress rather well.

His non-partisan government idea had drawn a cold reception from most quarters and especially from political parties and, overnight, Dr Mahathir was no longer their top choice for the top job.

In their eyes, he had gone from the great unifier to the great divider.

The remains of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, comprising the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Amanah Negara, have rallied behind Mr Anwar.

They claimed to have the numbers to form a minority government with Mr Anwar as their prime minister.

The Muafakat group, comprising the Malay-based Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia, is still committed to pushing for Parliament to be dissolved and for fresh polls.

In the midst of all this came news that Dr Mahathir had agreed to resume his role as chairman of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Has Dr Mahathir finally cooled down and forgiven Tan Sri Muhyiddin for daring to pull Bersatu out of Pakatan?

Moreover, political insiders said that former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali has once again rallied to the side of the elder man.

Dr Mahathir is also said to have accepted the pair's explanation for their action, which brought down the government.

 
 
 

The circle around Mr Muhyiddin and Datuk Seri Azmin claimed that when Dr Mahathir suddenly resigned as prime minister on Monday, he left a vacuum that would have been filled by Mr Anwar had the pair not pulled their party and group out, leaving Pakatan without the numbers to carry on.

Their action effectively blocked Mr Anwar from moving up.

Some of those at Bersatu's emergency supreme council, held the night after Dr Mahathir resigned, had also tried to propose Mr Muhyiddin for prime minister but he swiftly put a stop to it.

Mr Muhyiddin has great respect for Dr Mahathir even though the elder man sometimes drives people up the wall.

Given the complex developments taking place between these political friends and foes, will Dr Mahathir get the vote in Parliament so that he gets a chance to introduce Malaysia to its first unity Cabinet?

It is a novel and intriguing idea that is certainly worth a try.

Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that the real champions in these uncertain times have been no other than the rakyat.

Lawyer and former DAP politician Norman Fernandez put it well when he said in a political chat group: "What a great country Malaysia is.

"There is political turmoil and there is no government. Politicians are at loggerheads.

"Yet the people - Malays, Indians, Chinese and others - are going about their day-to-day activities in peace.

"No public demonstrations. No riots. No racial disturbance.

"Message to the politicians - you started the mess, you sort it out."

The people have shown that they are far more mature and sensible than their leaders.