KUALA LUMPUR — The leadership succession plan between Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim is not being handled well, despite repeated assurances from both leaders, said political scientist Dr Bridget Welsh.
Dr Welsh, a visiting senior fellow at the private university HELP, said it was clear there was a power struggle between supporters of both factions, as evidenced by the ongoing defections within parties of the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
“This power struggle is going on in the media and being fuelled largely by people around them, partly due to a lack of trust on both sides, which is destabilising the nation,” Dr Welsh said at an academic forum titled “Building a New Malaysia: Agendas and Aspirations”.
Dr Welsh, a political science professor at John Cabot University, said a managed transition — where personalities on both sides are convinced they will not lose cabinet positions and can work together — would be the best scenario.
The second, less favourable scenario would be for both sides to play the “numbers game”, in which they form political alliances with different parties to gain the necessary number of MPs, wresting control in Parliament and forming the government, she said.
“My personal feeling is that there is currently a stalemate between the two sides as they don’t have enough numbers, leaving them dependent on each other. But the situation is fluid and you can see the frogging (switching sides) that is currently going on,” Dr Welsh said.
[The numbers game is definitely being played. Bersatu is allowing ex-UMNO MPs to join them. BN has 79 seats. Most are held by UMNO MPs, but Mahathir would not accept some UMNO leaders into Bersatu. So say just 50? PAS has 18, so together with Bersatu's 12, they have just 80 seats. They need 112, so they are short by 32 seats. With Amanah (10) and Warisan (8), they would still have a shortfall of 14. Unless they accept more UMNO into Bersatu. But it is difficult for Mahathir to swing a coup. So for now the weakness keeps things "stable".]
Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir had repeatedly stated they both trust in the succession plan forged between them when they formed PH to take on Barisan Nasional before the 14th general election last year.
Dr Mahathir had said he will hand over power to Mr Anwar some time during PH’s five-year term. These assurances, however, have not stopped each leader’s supporters and pundits from questioning the plan.
Members of Dr Mahathir’s party, Bersatu, had stated that they want him to stay on and finish his five-year term as prime minister, while Mr Anwar’s supporters in PKR doubt that the former will hand over power to the latter.
The tension between the two men’s camps have given rise to speculation that Bersatu was luring MPs from opposition party Umno to bolster its numbers in Parliament.
Recently, senior Umno leader Nazri Aziz reportedly sought Mr Anwar’s support to form a unity government comprising PKR, Umno and DAP. Mr Anwar had shot down the proposal.
[UMNO and DAP in a coalition? That would be interesting. Unlikely, but interesting. And it would require Anwar to betray the other coalition parties, including Mahathir. Not that I expect Mahathir to have any qualms if he had that option. ]
Dr Welsh, however, said a peaceful transition was possible as long as there was enough public and political pressure.
“The problem is the lack of trust… but I believe that if other options are put forward that does not make the transition a zero-sum game, a peaceful succession is possible.”
Although some pundits and critics of Dr Mahathir said he was reverting to the type of autocratic rule he employed in his first tenure as prime minister, Dr Welsh argued that the 93-year-old was a different man now.
“He is in charge of some important segments of the economy, such as government-linked companies and the national narrative. But this is not the Dr Mahathir of the past. He is more consultative (now).”
Yearning for the strong man of the past to steer the country through turbulent times was also fuelling some of the criticism directed at the administration, she said.
“You can’t have the (Dr Mahathir) of the past because of his age and because the parameters now are so different from his first term as prime minister. And maybe that is a good thing.”
[Mahathir is different? I'll take her word for it. But here in SG, it doesn't seem that way.]