The longer the Anwar Ibrahim faction in PKR dithers on the naming of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the Pakatan Harapan prime ministerial candidate, the worse it becomes for him to sustain a clear sight of the position from within the walls of his incarceration in Sungai Buloh.
The matter of Anwar being the explicit choice of DAP, PKR and Amanah as Harapan’s PM-nominee had been settled some time ago, with Mahathir, chair of the fourth Harapan partner Bersatu, being the interim PM choice should Harapan win GE14.
This understanding of Mahathir as the Harapan choice of interim PM and Anwar as the eventual nominee was coalescing in the middle of last year.
Undergirding this compact was the understanding that Mahathir will work towards securing a royal pardon for the presently jailed Anwar which should remove the legal trammels in the way of the latter eventually becoming prime minister.
This understanding did not firm up in the intervening months, mainly because the Anwar lobby within PKR has become jittery over a hypothetical scenario in which a Harapan victory will trigger crossovers from a defeated Umno to Bersatu, transforming the latter from its current status as coalition midget to newly reinforced and augmented partner.
This change would give Mahathir (photo) the clout to engage in the manoeuvring at which he is adept and that has earned him the reputation of being the least predictable of politicians.
This is what the Anwar lobby within PKR fears.
It has led them to drag out their acquiescence to an arrangement that had coalesced by the middle of last year but has yet to become the fine print of a pact on which a public announcement could be made and the electorate unequivocally apprised.
Of course, it cannot be said in the public announcement that Mahathir is the Harapan choice of interim PM.
The public announcement would have to be that he is the firm choice as Harapan PM; the private understanding is that Mahathir will lead the interregnum between a Harapan takeover and the commencement of an Anwar premiership once he is legally untrammelled.
The Anwar lobby’s vacillation on acquiescing to this arrangement has had consequences.
The public has had the opportunity to buy into Umno-BN’s portrayal of Harapan as a brittle coalition that will sunder upon taking power because they have no firm nominee as PM.
The dithering has also enabled other contenders for the PM’s position in faction-ridden PKR to take advantage of the ambiguity to float their nominee for PM.
The Anwar lobbyists have mollified the fears of DAP and Amanah, to wit, that PKR’s factionalism will undermine Anwar’s chances of being PM by saying that once Anwar is out free, the fires of factional strife in the party will bank and be doused.
Azmin’s shrewd manoeuvring?
How delusive this take on the matter is can be inferred from the number of times in recent weeks the name of PKR deputy president Azmin Ali was commended as PM-nominee for Harapan.
In the latest instance of this suggestion, his nomination has been coupled with Mukhriz Mahathir as deputy PM.
This is a clever play for the votes of the younger generation of leaders in the Harapan spectrum, who are beginning to tire of the old leadership cohort and want its ranks refreshed.
It appears Azmin (photo) is engaged in the same shrewd manoeuvring that gained him the menteri besar’s post in Selangor in September 2014, after months of Anwar’s myopic insistence that his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail be the now-defunct coalition, Pakatan Rakyat’s, nominee.
Azmin, while ostensibly supporting Azizah’s nomination, eventually became the MB by ghosting through a gap that had opened up in the stalemate engendered by PKR and DAP’s insistence that Azizah be the nominee, PAS’ opposition to the move, and the Selangor palace’s unspoken distaste for the proposition of a female MB.
Not only is the Anwar lobby’s dithering on accepting Mahathir as the firm choice as Harapan’s PM-nominee seeding doubt in the public mind about the coalition’s coherence and solidarity, it’s chipping away at his standing as the undisputed choice of DAP and Amanah to be head honcho of a Harapan government.
Mahathir, a master canoeist when it comes to paddling the pros and cons of still-fluid situations, is steadily gaining ground in the estimation of DAP and Amanah leaders who correctly see him as key to swaying the Malay vote that is reflexively Umno’s away from it.
This is something Anwar has tried and not succeeded in achieving – at the 2008 and 2013 general elections. His can be deemed a noble failure.
It’s already a Harapan victory of sorts that the individual most culpable for our current national political crisis is the one who has offered to lead the opposition thrust for change.
This is a paradox, no doubt.
It beggars belief that if the effort succeeds its transitional leader will turn around and do a number on the Harapan agenda for sweeping reform of the national polity.
The DAP and Amanah complement of the Harapan leadership cohort would have to be political cretins to allow such a thing to happen.
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.