Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mahathir and Anwar’s battle for Umno

Malay Mail

20 September 2018

By Praba Ganesan

SEPTEMBER 20 — Hundred-twenty-four. Remember the number.

Since these are busy days.

Both the Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Mohamad camps are stuck in seemingly perpetual political negotiations to up their respective MP counts, especially to procure the unofficial tally lead within the tally — of Malay parliamentarians.

It is odd, this race for support. Especially, if one swallows whole the official version of the purported political balance in the country, where both are BFFs.

In this harmonious hugs-a-bountiful world, Anwar is in an inevitable two-year parade to the PM position, at which point, a benevolent Mahathir relegates himself to senior minister under the PKR president.

The Pakatan majority remains safe, Umno despondent without power, other Barisan Nasional (BN) parties in free fall to extinction before the next general election, and PAS sits pretty laughing at all sets of politicians who see the material world desirable, when only heaven truly matters and waits for them.

The ideal stable transfer of power from Mahathir to Anwar in 2020, 22 years late, but better late than never.

If one sucks it all in.

Lying ayes
When Pakatan Harapan’s 116 parliamentarians — including the three winning independents who’ve aligned with the coalition — are added up with Sabah’s Warisan eight, it’s 124. The magic number which exceeds the minimum majority (112) by 12 seats.

It’s not the gold standard of parliamentary majorities, and therefore offers Umno a lifeline to threaten the lead.

That is until other factors are considered, because instructively, it is Umno and no more BN. Not a coalition of 14 parties anymore.

This is due to Umno’s old partners’ conviction that a BN without federal power is of no value. Blatant overtures have been made by these Borneo parties to Pakatan instead to avoid backlash and retain their relevance in East Malaysia.

In the past, political parties in both Sabah and Sarawak have collapsed or been done over when they are not in cahoots with whoever is in control of Putrajaya.

Factor also, Umno has experienced dire desertions, the latest being former senior ministers Mustapa Mohamed and Anifah Aman.

So when the 27 neutrals — 23 in Borneo and four in Semenanjung — are held up as indirect support to the present government, the situation is precarious for Umno, which only has PAS to flirt with.

Pakatan finds itself with 151 MPs not opposed to its government. That’s bloody wonderful for the coalition.

Which means Umno is left to look for 112 from 67 seats left in Parliament, which is not possible. In other words, they are screwed. Even when combined with PAS’s 18.

Which begs the opening question. If Pakatan is in a healthy lead, and relations are hunky dory among PKR, DAP, Pribumi, Amanah and Warisan, why are the two factions — PKR and Pribumi — recruiting MPs aggressively?
Anwar wills Umno leaders to cross over, and as an olive branch to his PKR members who look on with trepidation, assures a better vet. Mahathir denies Umno appeasements but admits the repentant can abandon his old party for his new one.

One section of Umno openly offers to campaign for Anwar in a forced by-election while another Umno section readies to compete in it. Will the real Umno, please stand up?

The Pribumi mentri besar of Perak, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, speaks of more exits which must petrify Umno leadership since there are nine MPs in the silver state after one quit early on (Bukit Gantang’s Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal). And even the Padang Besar MP Zahidi Zainul Abidin meanders and admits to talks, which brings the whole northern corridor into the discussion.

Both Anwar and Mahathir are gathering their might to rule if they went their separate ways.
For Anwar, to have a new majority even if he has to dump Pribumi, along with DAP and Amanah who are in awe of Mahathir, by securing a different majority with Umno and PAS.

For Mahathir, to crush any pretensions of Anwar outflanking him in the Malay realm, by engineering his own queue of Umno leaders to Pribumi, in order to bolster the party’s count to compete with PKR’s 51.

To have a parliamentary majority even if they part company.

The quiet war
So, it is not tranquil, the relationship between Anwar and Mahathir.

It is surreptitious as proxies are used. A loud mouth former special officer fires a volley over the bow. While a former protégé is elevated to discomfort his party’s boss. Umno official speaks of salvation through Anwar — notwithstanding their school ties — while other leaders are in discussions with Pribumi’s representatives. Neither Anwar nor Mahathir are seen orchestrating these moves.

Few trust denials by parliamentarians when linked to departures, and both Anwar and Mahathir know all about the loyalty of representatives when confronted with the loss of power or material gains. Especially after their roles in the 1994 Sabah state election where the winning side was ousted by desertions.

There is mutual mistrust even if they do not reject photo-ops with each other.
Anwar won’t take Mahathir’s word at face value. A whisker away in 1998, he was instead whisked away to a jail cell. Few would fault him to be two-faced to the prime minister today, even if Mahathir promises a transition.

The persistent revelations of how Mahathir urged his predecessors to use the law against Anwar during the Abdullah Badawi administration, and even the Najib Razak administration until things went sour, provides further proof that Anwar must take matter into his own hands.

Mahathir understands Anwar’s impatience. From the language of restraint after his release from prison, filled with suggestions of supporting the Mahathir government and pursuing academic assignments akin to his time at Georgetown University a decade ago, Anwar has exhibited naked ambition lately.

The Port Dickson by-election forced in the middle of a PKR party election, as he hankers to be in Parliament. This week he continues to speak about his impending days as prime minister vis-à-vis treatment of Singapore, Mahathir’s place in his administration and the removal of Wan Azizah Wan Ismail from Cabinet while performing a revamp.

Both are an existentialist threat to the other, and it is shaping out to be as such.

Najib Razak is being charged in court today, which only raises the stakes as Umno MPs would rather to be on the right side of history and not sink with the possible last Umno prime minister. However, they want to pick the right horse, and here is where it gets tricky.

Do they pick the old boss, but an aged boss, or go with the political maverick who has the penchant to self-destruct? It may seem a dead heat, except for the one obvious trump card. Mahathir is prime minister, and Anwar is not.

Only on that, it’s advantage Mahathir. Who said only Hollywood movies get a reboot after 20 years?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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