On the face of it, it looks like Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad will go if Harapan’s presidential council asks him to. But as with most of his blanket statements, there is a catch which makes all the difference.
That presidential council has five members from each of the component parties – PKR, DAP, Amanah and Mahathir’s Bersatu, which is of course out of all proportion to their numbers in Parliament because they are all “equal partners”.
This is what Mahathir told reporters a few days ago in response to questions: He is prepared to relinquish his post with immediate effect should the Pakatan Harapan presidential council demand it.
But here is the clinching addendum: “I think this will be decided by all four (Harapan) parties together. Whether they want me to go or not to go. As far as I am concerned, if they want me to go now, I will go now.”
Remember the key phrases which will be used over and over again – “equal partners” although Bersatu is clearly more equal than others and “decided by all four parties together”.
Will all four parties decide that he has to go sooner rather than later? Definitely not Bersatu, Amanah is already swaying Mahathir’s way and even DAP which is not just leaning towards Mahathir but is embracing him when it’s secretary-general and party supremo Lim Guan Eng endorsed Mahathir’s “I will leave after Apec.”
Apec is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. We all know these conferences are a huge show, are very expensive, and at the end of the day resolve nothing – a lot of hot air and showmanship and nothing else.
This is an exercise in silly sentimentality and merely adds to the many records Mahathir has chalked up – if he is PM when the Apec summit is held here, he will be the first PM to have hosted it twice. Big deal.
Isn’t it more important that an incoming PM can show his face to the world here and we see what is his economic thinking instead of the rather shallow, well-worn, stale, out-of-date, oft-repeated thoughts of yore of the old PM who will inevitably take the stage to criticise the big powers and lecture the developing ones? It is not at all vital that Mahathir helm the country when Apec is held here.
But let’s listen to what Lim, who owes his finance minister’s position to Mahathir, and whose corruption charges were withdrawn but not dropped by the attorney-general’s office (AG Tommy Thomas recused himself from that decision): “He (Mahathir) has mentioned this during (past) presidential council meetings. But until now, I see no reason to hold a specific meeting to discuss this matter since the PM himself said he will leave after November.
“This is at the end of the year, not too long from now. Let us follow the timeline he (Mahathir) has recommended. I believe it (the transition) should be done in an orderly manner without any problems,” he said two days ago.
“Surely, there will be much speculation but I see this as a demonstration of his (Mahathir’s) openness and if the presidential council makes a decision (on the transition), he will accept it.
“As for now, the schedule is fixed for after Apec.”
That is an outright betrayal of PKR and the strong alliance between Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang (above), Guan Eng’s father and a fighter for reformation. If PKR and DAP stood together to ask Mahathir to leave earlier, there is a chance that Mahathir might, but Guan Eng has abdicated PKR and Anwar and thrown his lot with Mahathir. He may live to regret that later.
What is galling and absolutely inexcusable about this is that Guan Eng did not even insist that Mahathir must set a clear, irrevocable date for stepping down after November. We all know that is vital and even that may not be enough. He can still plead that circumstances have changed and he is needed, as he has done before – Mahathir is not a man of his word.
He was supposed to be interim prime minister until Anwar was pardoned which was 20 months ago. And then he said two years and now after November and Apec. But how long after? If that is not decided it could never be for all you care.
Among reasons why Mahathir should step down sooner rather than later is because he is too occupied with this idea of “wealth distribution”, and already giving away too much to businesses and letting his buddy Daim Zainuddin (below) make key decisions instead of the cabinet.
He has foregone proper economic planning – the Shared Prosperity Vision is nothing but an insipid document devoid of planning and implementation details – and instead focused most of his economic efforts on this wealth distribution. He revived projects which he said he would cancel and engaged in a new-found, unexplained closeness to China through negotiations undertaken by Daim.
Classic examples of his selective focus include new appointments to government funds and bodies, the revival of the uneconomic RM44 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the RM140 billion Bandar Malaysia, and the attempt to sell the RM30-40 billion Plus to cronies.
Mahathir and Daim seem to be buying time to put some assets and align deals which are favourable to friendly parties – read cronies – and they must not be allowed to do that.
Over in Penang, there is the DAP supported RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan or PTMP project, a heavily criticised project which involves the reclamation of land which the Penang government says will bring in RM70 billion in revenue to finance the PTMP. What if this proves too optimistic? This project too is moving with indecent haste.
Despite all these, Mahathir will have his way and will solely decide when he steps down – Guan Eng’s capitulation with not even conditions ensures that.
All this because the parties in the coalition that is Harapan do not have the guts and gumption to exercise their majority given to them by the public.
One thing is clear, if Mahathir does not go and go soon, Harapan will be a one-term government.
And even if he does, there is still a good chance that Umno/PAS will return. Even Mahathir must be able to see that. What is his game? Or can’t he see that anymore?
P GUNASEGARAM is editor-in-chief of Focus Malaysia and marvels at the way in which politicians can twist the meaning of words – interim and indefinite or not synonymous.