KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s political landscape descended into uncertainty on Monday (Feb 24), the man at the centre of it all was largely silent.
Even when Dr Mahathir Mohamad dropped the bombshell of his resignation as prime minister, triggering a chain reaction of parties quitting the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and cabinet ministers being relieved of their duties, he never elaborated on his decision.
The string of events has triggered uncertainty in many quarters. Amid this, political analysts told CNA that what is clear now is that the 94-year-old holds all the cards to decide who forms the next government.
Both sides of Malaysia’s new political divide - PH and what some say may be a new coalition comprising Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) as well as a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) splinter faction led by Mr Azmin Ali and other parties - have pledged their support to Dr Mahathir.
And this means that Dr Mahathir is essentially the kingmaker, the sole man responsible to chart Malaysia’s political destiny, according to Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha Mohamed from Universiti Utara Malaysia.
“Tun Mahathir’s resignation as PM and Bersatu leaving PH means that he is no longer accountable to Pakatan Harapan anymore. There is no more succession pact, nobody can force him into any succession agreement. He can start afresh all over again and chart Malaysia’s destiny,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
He pointed out that Dr Mahathir’s experience and aptitude as a capable leader has earned him the support from all the parties.
“In Malaysia’s current state, with the economy and the spread of COVID-19, the country needs a capable leader, and everyone is saying Tun is the right man for the job,” said the university lecturer.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a Senior Fellow from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, echoed similar sentiments. He noted that Dr Mahathir has strengthened his hand by resigning as prime minister, and he is now more powerful than before.
“He enjoys support from all sides ... He is the glue for either coalition to work so the chances for him to continue as prime minister are very high,” said Dr Oh.
MAHATHIR WAS NEVER GOING TO LET ANWAR BE PM: ANALYST
Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania, told CNA that Dr Mahathir’s decision to resign on Monday was purely tactical as he never wanted to hand over the baton to PKR’s president Anwar Ibrahim.
He said Dr Mahathir had agreed to the PH succession pact to hand over the premiership to Mr Anwar before the May 2018 polls because he needed the help of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) to overthrow former prime minister Najib Razak and his Barisan Nasional coalition.
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“Prior to the election, everybody got together because everybody wanted to get rid of Najib. You can’t really hold them to what they agreed on before the election because back in 2018, it was widely understood that Najib had damaged Malaysia because of the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) corruption case,” he said.
Prof Chin said the bitter history between Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar suggested that the succession would never have happened between them.
“The general consensus in Kuala Lumpur is that Anwar will not be prime minister this year or next year and will probably miss his chance to be prime minister in the future as well.
“As long as Mahathir is in charge, he will try to hand over the prime minister position to somebody else,” said Prof Chin.
He noted that since Mr Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister by Dr Mahathir in 1998, it was clear that Dr Mahathir does not think that Mr Anwar is the right person to lead Malaysia.
Mr Anwar was Dr Mahathir's deputy prime minister during the latter's first term in office, until he was sacked in 1998 and jailed later on what he said were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy.
He was thrown into jail again for a second sodomy conviction in 2015 and was granted a royal pardon after PH won the 2018 polls.
As things stand now, Mr Anwar would not have sufficient numbers to form a government without the support of Dr Mahathir, said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
He noted that even if the remaining PKR members, DAP and Amanah were on his side, Mr Anwar’s coalition would not have enough seats to command a simple majority.
“Anwar’s chances of becoming the next prime minister (are) very remote,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
Dr Oh said that Mr Anwar would only stand a chance if he gets Dr Mahathir on his side. He would also need the support of lawmakers from Parti Warisan Sabah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).
“This is highly unlikely … but perhaps he can pull this through with a very slim majority,” said Dr Oh.
FUTURE EVEN MORE UNCERTAIN FOR NAJIB, ZAHID
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha, citing sources from Bersatu, said if Dr Mahathir agrees to form a new government with Bersatu, PAS, UMNO and other parties, the likes of Najib and UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi could be excluded. This is because they are on trial for corruption, he said.
“Maybe, what will happen will be that the government will let the legal process carry on, and there will be no special treatment for them. Their charges will not be dropped, nothing like that. That’s the condition Tun Mahathir might give for him to lead the new coalition,” he said.