The Asian Voice

'Unity govt' hits road bump: The Star columnist

A photo taken on Feb 25, 2020, shows shows interim prime minister Mahathir Mohamad working in his office in Putrajaya.
A photo taken on Feb 25, 2020, shows shows interim prime minister Mahathir Mohamad working in his office in Putrajaya.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad went to bed on Monday (Feb 24) as the newly-appointed interim Prime Minister, unsure whether he would want to return permanently to the top job.

He had reportedly told Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Umno leaders, whom he met earlier, to throw their support behind Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the next prime minister.

His resignation as Prime Minister and chairman of Bersatu had thrown the country into confusion.

However, the Bersatu leaders who held a special meeting on Monday evening rejected Dr Mahathir's resignation as the party chairman and insisted they wanted him back as the Prime Minister.

It was unclear whether the decision was conveyed to Dr Mahathir that very night but he appeared to have had a change of heart by yesterday morning.

He donned his trademark bush jacket and left for work.

But it was a day of work and lots of politics because he had a string of meetings lined up with leaders from his former Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, Umno, PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, who was recently sacked from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Dr Mahathir had stunning news for them - he was planning to form a "unity government" comprising of parties from both sides of the political divide.

It was the latest bombshell in what has been an intriguing and crazy time in Malaysia's politics that saw the Pakatan government fall apart on Monday after Muhyiddin pulled Bersatu out of Pakatan, followed by the pro-Azmin group.

Their move was to pave the way for a new government that also included Umno and PAS. However, it was reportedly done without the blessings of Dr Mahathir who was reportedly very upset.

As the government crumbled, political leaders from both sides of the divide began pledging support for Dr Mahathir and pleading with him to retract his resignation.

The joke going around then was that since Dr Mahathir had support from all parties, he could form a government without any opposition and Parliament would become one big happy family.

But the joke appeared to have become reality by yesterday, although not everyone was amused.

 
 
 

Dr Mahathir's unity government would require friends and enemies to come together to form the government.

It was bizarre to say the least because as everyone knows, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) cannot stand Umno or PAS and vice versa.

As such it was no surprise that PAS and Umno immediately rejected the idea on the ground that they could not accept the idea of working with DAP.

Umno and PAS leaders were still dressed in their formal dark suits and songkok, having come from the Palace, when they held a press conference to announce that they would not be part of the unity government.

They also urged for a snap general election.

The irony was that their audience with the King had been to declare support for Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister.

And there they were, just hours later, pulling out support for Dr Mahathir to form the unity government.

Of course their argument was that the conditions for their support had changed and they were entitled to withdraw.

It was the latest twist and turn in what had been a roller coaster political ride.

It used to be that a week is a long time in politics but these days, even an hour is too long.

The other irony is that after the drama of the last few days, it may be back to square one for Dr Mahathir.

The signs are that he will probably be Prime Minister of a reconstituted Pakatan Harapan with some changes here and there.

It is unclear whether Mr Azmin's group will be part of the government but the fact that Dr Mahathir had also met with Mr Azmin yesterday suggests that the elder man has not written him off.

Dr Mahathir has no intention to heed the calls for a snap general election.

His priority is the economy and he is now in a position to form a new government and put the right people in the right portfolio to bring the country forward.

It is strange but the crisis of the last few days has actually strengthened his hand.

It is clear that he remains the most experienced pair of hands in these troubled times, the centre of gravity in a messy political arena. He must have been amused at how the very people who were trying to push him into retirement just a few days ago are now pleading with him to stay on.

A political crisis has been averted and Dr Mahathir now has the clout to get things back to normal.

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.