In this very column last week, I predicted the candidate for the new education minister based on three presumptions:
1. The new education minister must be someone PM Mahathir can trust;
2. The new minister must be from PPBM; and
3. He must help Mahathir accomplish his ultimate goals.
There are three people who meet all these three criteria: former cabinet minister Mustapa Mohamed, his son Mukhriz and Mahathir himself.
However, as Mustapa may not win the absolute trust of Mahathir, and the PM himself lacks the stamina and time to double up as education minster, I predicted that Mukhriz would eventually get the job.
The answer is yet to be fully unveiled. Mahathir is now acting education minster until someone is appointed later.
For how long will Mahathir be acting minster?
“Acting” is perhaps the best reason for Mahathir to convince PH and the people, and to be “acting” minster is not against PH’s pledge that the prime minster will not take up any ministerial position, and hence, aversion of any major public backlash.
In addition, the prime minister already has a very heavy workload upon his shoulders, with countless of meetings to attend every day and countless of documents to vet through and guests to see, not to mention the need to follow up all sorts of projects, reviews, planning works, and his frequent oversea trips. To be honest, not even 48 hours a day is sufficient for him.
Perhaps he still thinks he is the best person to take up the education portfolio, but like everyone else, he only has 24 hours a day, and the acting ministerial position should only be an interim arrangement.
As for how long he will be acting education minister depends on two things.
1. PPBM elections in April.
The education minister is a position reserved for PPBM and is one of the centres of power. As such, this job will only be given to someone important in the party.
Only those who pass the test of the April party elections are eligible for this job.
The party elections will not only determine the candidate for education minister but may also affect the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.
2. Mahathir’s timetable to implement his educational goals.
Mahathir is acting education minister not because he can’t find a suitable person to do the job, otherwise he would not have asked Maszlee Malik to leave in the first place.
Mahathir wants Maszlee out because the latter has failed to implement his educational policies.
While Maszlee has initiated a number of educational reforms, the prime minster is simply not patient enough. He understands that some of the policies may meet with powerful resistance from within his ruling coalition as well as the society at large, not something an inexperienced Maszlee could handle.
For instance the teaching of science and mathematics in English, the PM’s darling project abolished by his now party comrade Muhyiddin Yassin during BN’s time.
Sure enough Maszlee is well aware of this, and Mahathir should have reminded him to reinstate the policy too.
Nevertheless, Maszlee is only a political rookie lacking the weight in politics as well as in the Malay society.
To reinstate the policy, he needs to deal with not just people like Dong Jiao Zong but also the Malay grassroots, Malay intellectuals as well as Malay nationalists.
Muhyiddin abolished the policy in order to please the Malay society, and Maszlee may not be able to reinstate it.
All Maszlee could do is to reinstate the policy in Sarawak, which the state government is more than happy to accept.
But to do it in Peninsular Malaysia is a different thing altogether, especially with the current state of fragmented Malay political forces that puts PPBM and the PH at a disadvantage.
Maszlee was trying to drag on for as long as he could, but the old man simply would not allow that.
Another instance is the vision school programme.
Mahathir’s educational philosophy has always been established upon the foundation of national education in addressing the racial problem.
The vision school concept is an intermediate between national primary schools and SRJKs that should effectively dilute the religious nature of national primary schools as well as the ethnic characteristics of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, putting all school children under one roof learning about the same things in the same language.
This is doubtlessly an enormous educational project that touches on the sensitive language, cultural and religious issues, and could only be achieved with very strong political clout.
Again, this is something Maszlee is not able to handle.
To be acting education minister is perhaps Mahathir’s last chance to push ahead his lifetime wish of fulfilling the Malaysia aspiration he has always wanted through the education approach.
He may not see all the results within a short period of time, but at least he can start doing something and let his successor accomplish his goals on his behalf.
He must push through his dream with all the powers he has in hand within the shortest time possible.
Instead of Najib or Anwar, it is TIME that is actually his biggest rival at this moment.