Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s latest call for all Malay parties to unite under his party, Bersatu, is yet another attempt to undermine the dominant partner in the Pakatan Harapan coalition, Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-racial PKR, and again raises legitimate questions of whether Mahathir will eventually hand over the reins of power to his anointed successor.
If indeed his aim is to pass power peaceably without any fuss, why is he proposing a deal with other Malay parties, which will change the complexion of the multi-racial Harapan coalition and replace it with one that will be dominated by Malay parties instead?
Let’s see what happens in the extreme and unlikely case that all Malay or Malay-based parties join Bersatu, to illustrate the possible scenarios that could take place. And it’s not a very happy one, laced with all kinds of uncertainties and poisons.
This table shows the breakdown of government and opposition MPs according to parties. The two outright Malay parties in the ruling government are Bersatu and Amanah, with PKR, although being a multi-racial party, enjoying significant Malay support.
The opposition Malay parties are Umno and PAS, and we could include Sarawak’s GPS which is dominated by PPB with 13 out of 18 seats. GPS is unlikely to join Bersatu, but is likely to support it.
If Amanah were to join Bersatu, together with Umno and PAS, then Bersatu will command 93 seats (26+11+38+18). If it gets support from GPS’ 18 MPs, then it will control 111 (93+18) seats, exactly half of the parliamentary seats.
With defections from Harapan and/or support from the remaining 10 opposition seats, which include independents, majority control is assured even if PKR and DAP were to leave the Harapan coalition.
In the first scenario then, Mahathir’s Bersatu gets control of Parliament with help from GPS and others, leaving PKR and DAP out in the cold because their combined numbers are insufficient to form a majority. The two may well leave Harapan and become the main opposition.
Mahathir’s aim – Malay dominance or ketuanan Melayu – is achieved with power totally in the hands of Malays, and with non-Malays having to depend entirely on the charity of Bersatu for anything they get.
Also, that finally secures Mahathir’s position as PM for as long as he wants and is able, and the chance to choose his own successor, because PKR’s and DAP’s influence in the party is no more and the two multi-racial parties are more or less sidelined.
The other scenario is that PKR and DAP choose to remain within the Harapan coalition, but they will be toothless. Considering that, as a minority PM who, at the end of GE14, had just 13 seats before Umno defections swelled it to 26, Mahathir did not give due representation to either PKR or DAP, that situation will worsen.
More importantly, under that scenario, there will be hardly any opposition to speak of, giving the new government more or less unfettered rights to do almost anything, a very dangerous position to be in when you have Mahathir as prime minister.
The likely situation, however, could still be status quo, given the hostile response from Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (above), who pointed out that the biggest party is Umno-PAS.
“The Malays do not have to go to PPBM (Bersatu). The biggest Malay party is Umno and PAS. The joint agenda for Umno-PAS is far more important for the unification of the ummah (faithful), and beyond political interests,” Ahmad Zahid wrote in a Facebook post.
It may still be possible for crossovers by individual MPs, more likely from Umno rather than PAS. PAS MPs have so far not shown any predilection to move to Bersatu. Such crossovers will help increase Mahathir’s grip within the coalition.
But if PKR and DAP stay united within the coalition – an assumption at this stage given Mahathir’s ability to successfully drive wedges between strong allies, e.g. Azmin Ali and Anwar – they can successfully neutralise him, even if all Umno MPs were to cross over.
In such an instance, Bersatu could have as many as 75 MPs (Bersatu 64, with Umno’s 38, and Amanah 11), but still smaller than the PKR-DAP total of 92 (50+42). If it comes to the crunch, the Harapan coalition could force Mahathir to step down, although the outcome is by no means certain.
Of course, there are other permutations and combinations possible that are impossible to take into account, but the numbers illustrate some key possibilities.
If Mahathir is successful, what it will mean is a nullification of the GE14 results, which effectively brought a more multi-racial coalition into power, and therefore offered hope for reconciliation of differences among races instead of an antagonistic relationship previously, where parties such as Umno and PAS painted non-Malays as threats.
If Mahathir is successful, it will be a major step backwards for Malaysia, notwithstanding the fact that we collectively kicked out a kleptocratic government. One wishes that Mahathir would now step away from the scene, since his publicly avowed aim of helping to remove the common enemy, Najib Abdul Razak, has been achieved.
Knowing Mahathir, he won’t do that, which puts Harapan in quite a pickle as to what to do with this recalcitrant old fox who keeps pulling cards from his sleeves to upset the apple (durian?) cart with potentially disastrous consequences.
At some point, Mahathir’s bluff may be called in this constant game of poker, which so far Mahathir is winning. It is difficult to say whether the ultimate results would be calamitous or fortuitous, but it is bound to cause some anxious moments for the rest of us.