Pakatan Harapan Secretary General Saifuddin Abdullah’s assertion that Harapan had only agreed to Anwar Ibrahim as successor to Mahathir Mohamed as the prime minister but the timing of such transition was never discussed (as reported in Malaysiakini on Jan 1).
While it is true that the time of transition was not discussed, Saifuddin’s simplistic assertion is misleading – without giving the full historical context that would have highlighted the exact interim nature of Mahathir’s premiership.
We must remember that Mahathir’s marriage to Harapan was only sealed after months of haggling and strenuous efforts to overcome objections from dissenting Harapan members, the two protagonists having been deadly enemies for decades.
Harapan had finally agreed to let Mahathir lead the coalition and take up the premiership (in the event of winning the election) only because Harapan’s common leader Anwar was then in prison and hence legally disqualified for the premiership.
If Anwar had not been incarcerated then, the question of Mahathir leading and becoming PM would never have arisen.
So, it was clearly understood and agreed to by all parties then that Mahathir would be an interim PM pending the day when Anwar would be legally qualified to take up the premiership.
After such agreement of Mahathir’s interim premiership was reached, he later suggested himself that he might stay for two years, as he thought the legal process leading to Anwar’s eventual legal qualification for the premiership might take considerable time. The component parties of Harapan was non-committal to Mahathir’s 2-year suggestion then.
Lo and behold, Anwar was given a full royal pardon almost immediately after Harapan’s electoral victory, stunning everyone except perhaps Anwar’s family who had been working around the clock to seek the royal pardon for Anwar.
Should Mahathir step down for Anwar to take over then? Anwar’s answer was that he was not in a hurry to take over, and that he would rather Mahathir felt free to continue his management of the transition to the new Harapan regime and hand over at a time comfortable to Mahathir.
And that was all there is on the background surrounding Mahathir’s interim premiership.
I think enough water has flowed under the bridge over the past seven months for both principals – Mahathir and Anwar – to ponder and reflect honestly whether this is the right time for the handover – for the best interests of the nation. For which, I also suggest the leadership of component parties of Harapan give this issue their serious thoughts.
If the consensus is that this is not the right time, then fix the time of handing over so as to stamp out increasingly detrimental speculations and to avert dangerous political manoeuvres that may prove to be the undoing of this budding regime.
I am sure that if all of us place the interests of our nation as our top priority, we would be able to make the best decision that would enable us to exploit to the fullest this god-send opportunity to make the best for all Malaysians.
Kim Quek is author of the book The March to Putrajaya