Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most qualified of all? No answers from the mirror, but DAP’s choice for Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister generated a lively debate.
THE “Prime Minister question” has always been somewhat of a chicken and egg situation for the opposition coalition.
Do they name their candidate for Prime Minister candidate ahead of the general election or do they leave it till after they win?
The dilemma played out like a holiday movie as 2016 drew to a close. It was entertaining, there were new twists and turns and, all in all, it was a fitting end to a dramatic year of politics.
The apex court had ruled against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s application to review his sodomy conviction. The sliver of hope was gone, Malaysia’s most famous prisoner had failed in his last and final bid to free himself and that meant he would be out in the cold in the next general election.
It was very frustrating for his supporters and it was back to the drawing board for Pakatan Harapan leaders.
Within days, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin were mooted as the interim Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister if Pakatan wins the general election.
It began at a DAP dinner event in Penang during which Amanah president Mohamed Sabu said that Dr Wan Azizah would be a suitable interim Prime Minister.
DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, who also spoke at the dinner, liked the idea and went a step further to name Muhyiddin as the interim Deputy Prime Minister.
It was an unusual combination but these are unusual times and the debate that ensued suggested that not everyone was enchanted with the combination.
Anwar was still the undisputed preference up till a month ago. At the Pakatan Harapan convention in November, one leader after another had gone on stage to proclaim Anwar for Prime Minister.
It was terribly awkward for Muhyiddin who was seated on the front row and it was a good thing that the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president is famous for his wooden demeanour.
There he was, a senior figure, on par with Anwar in terms of government experience, ready to contest but his new friends were rooting for a man sitting in jail and ineligible for election for at least another five years.
Muhyiddin did not let on how he felt about the apparent snub which was seen as a way of telling him to keep his ambitions in check. It was also Pakatan’s way of telling Dr Mahathir: We will decide on this, not you.
The debate over the Prime Minister candidate drove the PKR chat groups into overdrive.
“He (Anwar) had created such a ‘big imagination’ that he would be the Prime Minister, it is quite hard for people in PKR to let go of the idea,” said Anwar’s former special assistant Najwan Halimi.
According to Najwan, the general opinion of those in the PKR circle was: We have not even won and they are already fighting over the post.
PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli’s proposal to make Anwar the Prime Minister was met with disbelief by even the hardcore Anwar supporters.
It was a more convoluted version of the Kajang Move and very few people were keen to go down that disastrous road again.
According to Rafizi, if Pakatan wins the general election, the coalition would instruct the Chief Secretary of the government to petition the King for a royal pardon and Anwar could be freed within two days of the general election.
An MP from PKR would vacate his seat for Anwar to contest and become the Prime Minister.
Rafizi is known for thinking outside the box but this one was way out of orbit or what some dismissed as “far-fetched”.
A PKR official quickly disassociated the party from Rafizi’s latest oral adventure.
Pakatan insiders said a discussion on the Prime Minister candidate had ensued on the very day that Pakatan and Parti Pribumi signed the cooperation agreement in early December.
Several NGOs led by Bersih held a meeting with Pakatan leaders after the signing ceremony and among the issues discussed was the Prime Minister candidate for Pakatan.
For purely pragmatic reasons, a leading NGO figure had proposed Muhyiddin for the top post. The reason offered was that although Anwar was the unanimous choice, the fact that he is in prison made it unrealistic to go on pushing for him.
To continue would be equivalent to trying to sell voters a product that is not available for sale.
The proposal of Muhyiddin drew a mixed reaction and even caused an emotional outburst from one DAP leader present at the meeting.
The opposition to Muhyiddin was obvious – he was seen as a product of Umno. It would be embarrassing especially for DAP leaders whose political success had been built out of attacking Umno to now present him as their Prime Minister candidate.
Moreover, DAP had been at the forefront of running down Muhyiddin for being “Malay first and Malaysian second”.
“I would not want to get trapped in the debate although I have my own preference. People are more interested in knowing what we can do for them when we get to Putrajaya.
“We should be discussing things like a two-term limit to a PM’s term or whether a PM should be holding a portfolio like finance,” said Amanah deputy chairman Salahuddin Ayub.
So what inspired DAP’s Lim to propose Muhyiddin for Deputy Prime Minister?
One reason is that the ends justify the means for many politicians and if advocating Muhyiddin means bringing in more Malay support, then so be it.
Another possible reason is the “Pakatan Cabinet” circulating on social media and featuring Lim as Prime Minister and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as his deputy.
It was so obviously fake. Although the two aged tigers are now purring in each other’s company, there is no way that Dr Mahathir would settle to playing second fiddle to Lim.
Lim was likely trying to quash the fake Cabinet list, to tell his audience that DAP does not aspire to the two top posts which will be filled by Malays.
In a way, it was a rather a sad admission on DAP’s part, that despite its dominance over the coalition in terms of seats, it could not lay claim to the posts.
According to a Pakatan MP, Lim could have fallen into the trap set by Information Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak. Salleh, an avid blogger, had challenged Pakatan to name its choice for Deputy Prime Minister and to come up with its shadow Cabinet as is the practice in the Westminster system of government.
“Kit Siang is so seasoned, how could he have fallen for that?” said the Pakatan MP.
The Prime Minister debate in Pakatan also seems to ignore another qualified candidate, namely PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
The circle around Selangor Mentri Besar obviously sees him as Prime Minister material and Najwan was among those who saw Rafizi’s “Kajang Move 2” as an attempt to block Azmin’s upward path.
How crucial is it for Pakatan to come up with its Prime Minister candidate?
Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali has said that the sky will not fall if Anwar does not become Prime Minister but the sky may not open up for Pakatan if it does not have one.
A credible Prime Minister candidate can add to voter confidence and provide that extra push in the polls. For instance, Pakatan’s best outing in 2013 happened because Anwar was poised as the Prime Minister designate.
“The voters helped us deny Barisan the two-thirds majority, they are expecting more from us. They don’t want uncertainty, they want a clear-cut leadership figure. Hence, naming the PM becomes important,” said the above Pakatan MP.
The debate has just begun and there will be more twists and turns before the team of rivals in Pakatan reach a consensus.
In the meantime, “The Lady” has spoken.
Dr Wan Azizah has begun to speak her mind these days. She broke ranks with her Pakatan colleagues on the BR1M policy to state that she did not consider it a bribe and that the rakyat was entitled to receive the aid.
She was surprisingly assertive on the prospect of Anwar ever becoming Prime Minister.
“What do you mean never? Never say never,” she said in her trademark girl-like tone that nevertheless meant business.
The loyal wife is prepared to do what it takes for her husband.
If Anwar, now 69, misses the next election, he will be on the wrong end of 70 when he next becomes eligible, around the age that Dr Mahathir “retired” from politics.
But Anwar will probably still be handsome, trim and energetic and, like his former nemesis, calling the shots over his party.
Political animals like them never really let go.