Mahathir-Anwar stalemate pulling Malaysia’s opposition pact apart

KUALA LUMPUR : The momentum for Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) counter-coup has stalled just inches from the finish line after failing to agree who would lead Malaysia should the coalition succeed in toppling Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Muhyiddin administration appears to be 114-strong, just above the simple majority of 112. But doubts have grown due to the government’s refusal to test its majority in Parliament – the March session was cancelled and the May 18 sitting was adjourned immediately after the King’s opening speech – especially after former premier Mahathir filed a no-confidence motion against his successor.

Rumours of defections have spread like wildfire, although only a couple of MPs have walked. But if Tan Sri Muhyiddin has wobbled of late, then the opposition has been derailed less than three weeks before Parliament does business for the first time since PN took power on March 1.

Dr Mahathir said in an interview with Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily on Tuesday (June 23):”I will not cooperate with him (Anwar) because he does not want to work with me. I need to find other ways to become prime minister. “The 94-year-old leads a pack of five renegade MPs from the ruling Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia who refuse to endorse Mr Muhyiddin, and also has the backing of 10 MPs from the eastern state of Sabah.

Meanwhile, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar heads the 91-strong PH coalition, and his offer to Dr Mahathir of a senior minister or minister mentor role akin to that held by veteran leaders in Singapore has been rejected out of hand by the elder statesman.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (left) is bidding to be premier while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is still awaiting his chance.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (left) is bidding to be premier while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is still awaiting his chance.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PH’s two other members, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Islamic outfit Amanah, have failed to coax Mr Anwar to accept a position as deputy premier before taking over government in six months. This arrangement would mean reviving a partnership that lasted for five years before Dr Mahathir controversially sacked Mr Anwar in 1998.

Mr Anwar’s PH allies have been forced to bat away accusations of betraying him, with DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang pointing out that ensuring their return to power, albeit initially as a Mahathir administration,”is the surest way for Anwar to become Prime Minister”.

PKR’s scepticism of such a deal is fuelled by the fact that a similar transition plan agreed prior to PH’s shock May 2018 election victory failed to materialise, as Dr Mahathir’s Bersatu blocked any attempt to set a handover date.With the ruling PN preparing to call for early polls to claim a more secure mandate, time is not on the side of the disjointed opposition as the stare-down continues between the two partners-turned-nemeses-turned-allies-turned-rivals.

All three PH parties have insisted that the coalition remains intact despite their differences, but Dr Mahathir has indicated that the so-called PH Plus, which includes his supporters, is no more.Some in PKR are openly calling for the party to leave PH, and The Straits Times understands that a segment of leaders are mulling going into the next election alone if their partners refuse to endorse Mr Anwar as their prime minister candidate.

But analysts believe this would only pave the way for a landslide PN victory, as the ruling pact would secure the bulk of Malay Muslim votes, which form the majority in more than half of Malaysia’s parliamentary wards.


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