Mahathir-Anwar Power Transition – It’s All About Who Will Become The Next Deputy Prime Minister

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Jul 12 2019
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Anwar Ibrahim’s ambition to become the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia was crushed when then-PM Mahathir Mohamad sacked him in 1998. Mr. Anwar, who served as the deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998 under Dr. Mahathir, was declared not fit to be the next premier for corrupt practices and sodomy – allegations that many believed was politically motivated.


Mr. Anwar was jailed in April 1999 anyway. Crying injustice over his sacking, he kick started “Reformasi”, a protest movement that began in September 1998 and spread like wildfire throughout the country. As the momentum started to build, a new multiracial-based party – Parti Keadilan Nasional or National Justice Party (KEADILAN) – was formed in 1999.


On 3 August 2003, KEADILAN merged with Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) to become the current party – Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) or People’s Justice Party. While Anwar was locked behind bars, his wife, Wan Azizah led the party and increased its parliamentary representation from one seat to 31 seats in the 2008 General Election.

Upon his release in 2004, Anwar became the opposition de-facto leader who was instrumental in the formation of the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat coalition. The new formidable opposition coalition would build the critical foundation leading to the ultimate defeat of the once invincible ruling Barisan Nasional government in 2018, which had ruled since independence in 1957.


In the same year that Anwar began a 5-year prison sentence in 2015, after a second sodomy conviction was upheld under Najib administration, Pakatan Rakyat was dissolved and a new opposition coalition – Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) – was formed. Armed with 50 parliamentary seats won in the May 2018 general election, PKR is today the biggest party in the ruling coalition.


So, today’s Anwar is a different animal from 1998’s Anwar. Back then, prior to his sacking, Anwar was seen as an arrogant, corrupt, power-crazy, impatient – even a racist and an extremist – UMNO leader. More importantly, he was kicked out of UMNO with nothing but the shirt on his back. But he refused to go down tamely and fought for over 20 years to make a comeback.

Election 2018 - Mahathir and Anwar Banner

That probably explains why Mahathir said he trusts in Anwar’s capability of leading the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition due to his history of leading the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat. The prime minister said in an interview in April – “He left UMNO and he was able to bring DAP, PAS even, and his party together, so he has leadership qualities.”


In the same interview with the New Straits Times, Mahathir also revealed why Anwar is a more “acceptable” leader than former PM Najib – “I think that to have Anwar replace a person like Najib is more acceptable than to have Najib carry on, so I decided that I would work with Anwar … between Najib and Anwar, I think Najib is a worse leader than Anwar. Najib is the worst leader!”


Hence, to suggest that the 94-year-old Mahathir will not hand over his power to Anwar, as consistently trumpeted by the opposition and Anwar haters, is quite silly. It’s even sillier to suggest that Mahathir is more willing to partner with UMNO and PAS for the sake of Malay unity than to honour his promise of power transition to Anwar, especially now that Najib has returned as UMNO adviser.

Prime Minister-in-Waiting – Anwar Ibrahim

Exactly to whom should Mahathir pass the baton if he forms an alliance with enemies like UMNO or PAS, knowing very well that not only Najib is enjoying his life a free man, he is also more popular now than when he was the prime minister? It would be back to the square one, risking Najib becoming premier again, if Mahathir breaks his promise on the power transition plan.


Even if Mahathir wanted to perform another sodomy stunt on Anwar just to stop his former deputy from taking over the premiership, he can’t. As mentioned, today’s Anwar is different from 1998’s Anwar. Today’s Anwar has in his possession 50 parliamentary seats. Even if his deputy president Azmin Ali defects to Mahathir’s camp, he could do very little damage considering his homosexual scandal.


In the name of friendship, comradeship and principle, DAP, with 42 parliamentary seats, would most likely throw their support behind Anwar if Mahathir goes rogue and betrays the existing coalition. In the same breath, the friendship between Lim Guan Eng and Mohamad “Mat” Sabu would probably see Amanah (11 parliamentary seats) swings its support for Anwar too.

Best Buddies - Mohamad Mat Sabu and Lim Guan Eng

But why can’t Mahathir set a date to ensure a smooth transition to Anwar, and eliminate dangerous rumours and speculations once and for all? It’s all about the post of deputy prime minister, traditionally second-in-command who would become the next prime minister. It’s a public knowledge that Deputy PM Wan Azizah is just warming up the seat for her husband, Anwar Ibrahim.


Wan Azizah’s role is extremely critical in the event unexpected misfortune happens to the 94-year-old prime minister. While Mahathir has repeated himself until foaming at the mouth that Anwar will take over once he steps down eventually, what is unknown is who will be crowned as the deputy prime minister. For obvious reason, it cannot be an ethnic Chinese from DAP.


Multiracial Chinese-majority DAP, however, has a stabilizing role of safeguarding the status quo that neither Mahathir nor Anwar will go ballistic and start a nuclear war against each other, similar to the dramatic escalation between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. That’s why the opposition repeatedly stirs up racial and religion sentiments among the Malays that the Muslims and Malay Rulers have lost power to DAP.

US vs North Korea - Donald Trump vs Kim Jong-un

To ensure stability, the next second-in-command has to come from Mahathir’s party, PPBM (Bersatu). The ideal plan is to rotate the prime minister and the deputy prime minister among PKR and Bersatu leaders. So, when Anwar becomes the PM, his deputy must be someone from ally Bersatu. And once Anwar steps down, the next premier will come from Bersatu and the deputy post goes to PKR.


The problem with Bersatu is it seriously lacks talents. That’s understandable as the party was founded only in September 7, 2016, as compared to 20-year-old PKR. In fact, Azmin Ali was meant to be groomed as the next deputy PM, and not PM, once he defects to Mahathir’s camp. Mahathir had never hinted in any way that Azmin is to succeed him as the next PM.


It was the foolish and impatient Azmin who thought he was the best invention since sliced bread. After the explosive homosexual video clips, there’s no way to promote Azmin as the deputy PM representing Bersatu, let alone the next prime minister. The battle for the position of deputy PM has gotten clearer and interesting with the remarks from Mukhriz in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review.

Mahathir Mohamad and Mukhriz Mahathir

PM Mahathir’s son Mukhriz Mahathir told all and sundry that there is no agreed timeframe of two years for his father to pass on the prime minister post to PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. So, while both Mahathir and Anwar had an agreement on the succession plan, the 2-year timeframe for the handover did not exist. More importantly, Mukhriz said his father should be given time to fix Malaysia’s economic and financial issues.


In the same interview with Nikkei, the Mahathir’s son also said he is prepared to follow in his father’s footsteps. Why did he say that? Clearly, Mukhriz was trying to buy time when he claimed the non-existence 2-year power transition timeframe. He needed time to consolidate his power in order to be appointed as the deputy prime minister to continue the Mahathir Dynasty.


That explains why Mukhriz Mahathir proposed earlier this month for the top three positions in the party – chairman, president and deputy president – to be uncontested in the coming (PPBM or Bersatu) party polls. Conveniently, Mukhriz is the deputy president while his father is the chairman and Muhyiddin Yassin is the president. He also said that the “one member one vote” system could be reviewed.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with PM Mahathir Mohamad

Like UMNO’s existing structure where its president is chosen from 191 division chiefs, Mahathir and his fifth child Mukhriz wanted to ultimately replicate the same model into their party Bersatu. Such model will create the corrupt warlord system, but it’s easier to control (or rather bribe) 191 warlords than to buy votes from hundreds of thousands or millions of party members.


Interestingly, Mukhriz claims that while he is not really ambitious to become the next prime minister after Anwar, he remains open if opportunity arises. His message was clear – that Anwar must support him as the next deputy prime minister if Anwar wants a smooth power transition from his father Mahathir. But the problem with Mukhriz is his lack of experience and popularity.


Born with a silver spoon like Najib Razak, everything that Mukhriz has today was being given on a silver platter by virtue of him being the son of Mahathir Mohamad. Even as the chief minister of a small state Kedah, his achievement has been average at best. In the dog-eat-dog Malay politics, it would be a miracle if Mukhriz could without his daddy’s watch and protection.

Muhyiddin Yassin, Mahathir Mohamad and Mukhriz

Alternatively, Anwar could appoint Muhyiddin as his deputy prime minister, with Minister Mentor Mahathir monitoring from behind the scene. Assuming Mahathir agrees to pass his baton and the PH government could get two-thirds Parliament majority to limit the premier’s tenure to 2 terms (max 10 years) by next year, the year would be 2030 when PM Anwar steps down.


In 2030, Muhyiddin will be 82 years old, if he could outlive his pancreatic cancer cells. At 64 years old, Mukhriz could still comfortably take over from Anwar. But most likely Muhyiddin could babysit Mukhriz for 1 term before retires for good, paving the way for the son of Mahathir to assume the role as deputy prime minister in 2025, at a healthy age of 59 years old.


Of course, if Muhyiddin doesn’t mind, the country can always have two deputy prime ministers in the form of Muhyiddin and Mukhriz, just so that Mahathir can have a peace of mind that his son is being taken care of. Mukhriz will have 10 years to learn the rope, and hopefully he will not become as corrupt as Najib, since the son of Mahathir was already a very wealthy man today.

Mukhriz Mahathir - Backpack - Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim


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