KUALA LUMPUR: Despite being removed as chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), Dr Mahathir Mohamad is likely to fight on, even as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin consolidates his power in the party.
Analysts interviewed by CNA expect the former prime minister to challenge the legality of the dismissal, while harping on issues that could chip away at Mr Muhyiddin’s legitimacy.
Universiti Malaya Sarawak’s Dr Jeniri Amir said that Dr Mahathir’s combative nature means he was never going to stay silent.
“You can’t expect Mahathir to keep quiet. He has the lion in him … and he is going to react by harping on all sorts of issues,” said Dr Jeniri.
Political analyst Associate Professor Ahmad Martadha Mohamed from Universiti Utara Malaysia added that Dr Mahathir would challenge the validity of his sacking, by arguing that he was not given an opportunity for oral representation to defend his actions.
“By the party’s constitution, you cannot simply dismiss someone like that. You have to read the charges and give the member to be sacked an opportunity to represent themselves. This was not done,” he noted.
Furthermore, Dr Mahathir will likely argue that Bersatu’s executive secretary who issued the dismissal letters to him and to the other four Members of Parliament (MPs), Mr Muhammad Suhaimi Yahya, does not have the authority to issue termination letters.
Mr Muhammad Suhaimi had said the dismissals were decided after the MPs had sat with the opposition bloc during the parliamentary sitting on May 18, and not with the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Bersatu's president Mr Muhyiddin.
In a joint statement issued late on Thursday, Dr Mahathir and the four other federal lawmakers who were sacked - Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, Mr Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Dr Maszlee Malik and Mr Amiruddin Hamzah - rejected their dismissals and maintained that they acted within laws and regulations set by Bersatu.
Mr Marzuki Yahya, the party secretary-general aligned to Dr Mahathir, has in turn issued a letter to terminate Mr Muhammad Suhaimi as executive secretary.
It should be noted that Mr Marzuki had earlier been relieved of his post by Mr Muhyiddin, who appointed Mr Hamzah Zainudin as the new secretary-general.
Dr Mahathir, who held a press conference at the party’s headquarters on Friday afternoon (May 29), stressed that where he sat in parliament was not a valid reason for dismissal.
“I can sit anywhere (in parliament), there’s nothing against it in the constitution,” he had said.
At the press conference, Dr Mahathir also maintained that he was still the chairman of Bersatu. He said that it was his decision to relieve Mr Muhammad Suhaimi of his duties.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, noted that if the party stood by the decision to sack the five MPs, Dr Mahathir and his supporters will likely raise the issue to the Registrar of Societies and the Courts for a judicial review, in the hope that these authorities might grant an injunction to block the dismissals.
WILL MAHATHIR JOIN ANOTHER PARTY?
If all legal avenues to challenge his dismissal have been exhausted, some might argue that Dr Mahathir has the option of joining one of the political parties in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition - Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) or Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan).
However, analysts said it would be highly unlikely that Dr Mahahthir would be joining any of the component parties, as he would want to assume leadership and dictate policies on his own terms.
Dr Oh said: “Dr Mahathir has the option of joining another component party in the Pakatan Harapan coalition but I think it is unlikely he would do so as he wants to be his own boss and would not like to subject himself to be second or third in command, or just as an advisor to PKR or to Amanah.
“If he has exhausted his legal challenges, what’s more likely to happen is that he will form a new party with his faction or take over an existing party and be the leader,” he added.
Meanwhile, Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha opined that Dr Mahathir will likely act as an independent MP aligned to PH, as it would allow him to continue fighting for the rights of the Malays.
“Knowing him, I’m sure he’s not going to join PKR, Amanah or DAP. So the only viable thing for him to do is to be an independent MP so that people cannot fault him because after all, for a long time, his position has always been to fight for the welfare of the Malays,” he said.
While the former prime minister still has political options, Dr Jeniri said his political career is “over this hill” and that it was time for him to step aside to pave the way for younger politicians.
He noted that even though the 94-year-old would likely propose a vote of no-confidence against Mr Muhyiddin at the next parliamentary sitting on Jul 13, he is unlikely to succeed. “He is weak, crippled and his influence is also diminishing,” said Dr Jeniri.
Supporters of Dr Mahathir - Bersatu's former chairman - are at odds with those backing Mr Muhyiddin. The split in the party came after Mr Muhyiddin's decision to team up with Barisan Nasional (BN), and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) to form the new ruling government earlier this year.
Following the establishment of the new coalition, Mr Muhyiddin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.
“MUHYIDDIN HAS SHOWN HIS POWER”
The decision to remove Dr Mahathir from Bersatu appears to be a bold and assertive move by the prime minister.
Dr Jeniri said that the “drastic action” to sack Dr Mahathir was the “right one”.
“You have to take drastic action and it is now or never. Muhyiddin has shown his power.
“For Muhyiddin, he (Mahathir) is a thorn in the flesh. You need to pull that thorn. If not, he is going to create problems, you need him out to stabilise the party and Perikatan Nasional,” he said.
He added: “(This) shows that Muhyiddin is in control and has the upper hand. He can’t allow Mahathir to have room to manoeuvre and weaken whatever influence he has in the party”.
“Now he is more stable as the PM and his party is more stable too,” said Dr Jeniri.
Similarly, Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha told CNA that Mr Muhyiddin was not left with much choice.
“Sacking Mahathir is the only choice he has. He is looking forward to the next General Election and he cannot have any squabbles or internal fighting in the party because now Bersatu is leading the government.
“So for Bersatu to remain the dominant party, the leading party, it has to be strong,” he said.
Dr Oh also pointed out that only a small handful of politicians were aligned to Dr Mahathir, and the whole group has now been removed from Bersatu.
“The bulk of the party parliamentarians are still with Muhyiddin,” he said.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said that Mr Muhyiddin and Bersatu could further their political agenda if they capitalise on their current situation.
“In terms of Cabinet ministers, Bersatu has the most ministers in the Cabinet, and they also appointed parliamentary members to be chairman of Government-linked Companies (GLCs)," Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said.
“He has strengthened Bersatu within the coalition and all the key Cabinet positions are held by Bersatu MPs,” he said.
Despite the show of strength by the current prime minister, those interviewed said there is still a gulf between Bersatu and the United Malaysia National Organisation (UMNO).
Dr Oh said “As we all know, UMNO is the dominant party in the ruling coalition.
“Bersatu’s position both within Perikatan Nasional and in general is very precarious because most of its members do not have a unifying ideology or a charismatic leader. So at any moment, they might be tempted to switch allegiance to UMNO or even across the political aisle,” said Dr Oh.
He added: “That is why you see a lot of GLC positions given to UMNO, it is in order to keep them in line”.
Similarly, Dr Jeniri said Bersatu may not be able to get the Malay support needed when going against PAS and UMNO.
“Bear in mind Bersatu is going to be a minor marginalised party. There is no way Bersatu will have many votes.
“The Malays will support UMNO and PAS … UMNO is going to be the dominant one in the next General Election,” he predicted.
Although Mr Muhyiddin has asserted his power, whether his actions are morally justified is another cause for concern.
Dr Ahmad Fauzi, a political science professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the sackings reflected a sense of insecurity in Mr Muhyiddin.
“To be sacking five party members, all of whom were former Cabinet members (either ministers or deputies) or in Mukhriz's case a former Chief Minister, seems to reflect a widespread sense of insecurity among the Perikatan Nasional government especially in Muhyiddin.
“The brash dismissals merely lend credence to the accusation that Muhyiddin is re-enacting the old order, which he had been recorded as having disavowed during the GE14 campaign,” he said.