It's more or less official. It's either Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Anwar Ibrahim. Maddey issued a nationally-televised statement yesterday saying he intended to form a non-partisan government which would put national interests first. Meanwhile, the twice-ordained successor to Mahathir, Anwar, responded by saying Pakatan MPs had put him forward to the King as the next PM. Right now, everything is still on a knife edge and the race is on between the septuagenarian and the nonagenarian to see who'll be the next big boss.

Battle lines drawn

Semboyan telah berbunyi

The battles lines have been drawn, and this time there is no doubting it.

While Dr Mahathir Mohamad remains the interim PM, everyone’s favourite PM-in-waiting has thrown his hat into the ring to be the 8th leader of our little nation. Statements by both yesterday left little to the imagination. The gloves are most definitely off.

The first was Maddey’s televised statement in the evening, where he apologised to the nation for the political upheaval we are currently going through. Mads also said he would not work with Umno, though he could accept former Umno members. 

He said Bersatu siding with the Umno-PAS muafakat would see parties which had lost in GE14 coming back into power, and Umno having the greatest control – something he can’t accept. That is why, he said, he resigned as Bersatu chairman.

But here’s the kicker, which actually came right at the very end of his statement. Maddey said he wanted to form a non-partisan government which would put the country’s interests first and not that of politicians or political parties.

“If I am allowed, I will try to form an administration that doesn’t side with any party. Only national interests will be prioritised. If allowed, this is what I will try.” Those were his exact words, well translated from BM. And you can read his full speech here

So, in other words, what Mahathir is saying is that all of us should trust nobody but him. And who will decide what the national interests are? Maddey of course. Mahathir would also be free to pick his Cabinet based on his whims rather than a Cabinet based on the idea of power sharing which has served all our governments since 1957.

In other words, Mahathir would be the supreme power – practically an emperor – with his only justification being that he knows what’s best for all of us. You know who else sang “trust in me, just in me”This guy, just before he literally tried to eat his victim! 

Some people argue it’s not an alien concept to have a leader cherrypick his own Cabinet – it’s done in the US, and other countries. But in our Westminster system, the convention is to pick MPs as Cabinet members. If Mahathir wants to change the convention, it has to be part of an actual systemic change, not just because Maddey wants it so. If this is the rule, it has to be the rule for all future PMs and not some special Mahathir privilege. 

Also, if he wants to pick his Cabinet, it should then be a Cabinet of technocrats – whoever is best for the job, and not an MP. There’s too much potential here for Mahathir to build an unassailable political stronghold for himself and Bersatu if he’s allowed to play the role of kingmaker. 

One thing is clear now – Mahathir is a serial oath breaker. For two years, we’ve kept hearing how he was planning to relinquish power to Anwar at some point. But all that seems to have gone out the window now. Did the old man ever intend to walk into the sunset or had he always been plotting ways to screw Anwar over? Or is what’s happening now purely because he’d heard of a plot to install the PM-forever-in-waiting as supreme leader? Who knows?

Anyhoo, after the PM’s televised statement, Anwar held a press conference in which he read out a statement from the Pakatan presidential council. The council had basically made a U-turn (which apparently seem to be almost as popular as statutory declarations) and decided NOT to support dear ol’ Mads.

Instead, they put forward the name of Anwar Ibrahim (quite awkward, Anwar reading out his own name like that) as the next PM, and this had been conveyed to the Agong. But why? Well, it was because Pakatan had asked Mahathir to chair their presidential council meeting and he had declined. And also, DAP reps rejected a non-partisan gomen cos Mahathir would have carte blanche in deciding who would be in the Cabinet. DAP has got cause to worry, because they could find themselves in the odd position of having the most seats in Parliament and having the fewest seats in Cabinet, or even none at all!

So yes, the gloves are off, the battle lines have been drawn and we now have three factions or blocs, it seems, within the Dewan Rakyat: The Mahathir Unity Government bloc, the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan bloc and the BN-PAS bloc. And Anwar, with the most seats (details on that in the next section), is quite possibly in the driving seat and perhaps able to form a minority government.

So what happens now?

Well, it’s simple, on the face of it. The King can invite the MP with the largest support to form the government. That would be Anwar, who commands 92 Pakatan MPs. It would be a minority government, of course, but a government no less legitimate.

But will this happen? More importantly, will Mahathir allow this to happen?

Sacked PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and his 10 gang members are set to join Bersatu, which left Pakatan, and have hailed Mahathir’s statement as a vindication of their decision to exit the party.

Bersatu has, of course, declared for Maddey. Warisan and GPS have also declared for him, though this could be a different story now that Anwar has been put forward as a candidate and after Mads made his statement. That gives our interim PM a maximum 64 seats, while BN-PAS has 61 MPs. 

There will likely be a whole lot of political manoeuvring in the coming days. Maddey could do a U-turn (there’s that word again) and decide to work with Umno (and in so doing, BN-PAS) to get his simple majority in the Dewan Rakyat. Or BN-PAS could make their second U-turn in less than a week and decide to support our glorious interim PM again, just so Pakatan gets the boot and Anwar has no chance to “ascend”. The so-called Muafakat Nasional, after first declaring their support for Mahathir, had done a volte face and called for fresh polls, a call reiterated by MCA yesterday.

On Pakatan’s side, expect Anwar to try to win over the support of GPS and Warisan, or even woo back Bersatu (probably slim chances there, though). With a minority gomen possible, it stands to reason that Pakatan will go the extra mile and try to get a simple majority in Parliament. Anwar may even try to get his old BN MP to do a little hop, skip and jump over to PKR to get the numbers.

Of course, as interim PM, Mahathir could just decide to advise the Agong to dissolve Parliament so fresh polls can be held. There’s no telling what people will do in an election held now, but it staves off Anwar from the PM’s post at least for a month or two, if that is indeed our wily supremo’s intentions.

Whatever decision he comes to, Mahathir has to move fast. Pakatan has already made its support for Anwar known to the King, and the Agong himself has finished interviewing more than 100 MPs to gauge where their loyalties lie. 

The political crapper we’re in right now has affected several state gomens, and yesterday’s focus seemed to be both in the northern and southern ends of the peninsula.

In Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar summoned state assemblymen to an audience. All 56 were summoned but some were unable to attend. Also in attendance was Pagoh MP Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Bersatu president. 

The Ruler met with each individually and asked them to state whether they thought Pakatan should continue administering Johor or otherwise. However, the outcome of the meeting was not known. For the record, Pakatan has 28 seats, Bersatu has 11, BN has 16 and PAS just one.

The Kedah state executive council met last night, but MB Mukhriz Mahathir asked for time to make a statement. Kedah is an interesting state to watch as Mukhriz, of course, is Maddey’s son and Bersatu deputy prez.

As Kedah is home state to both Mahathir and Mukhriz, the MB’s post was handed to Maddey Junior following GE14 despite Bersatu having six seats to PKR’s seven (with Amanah and DAP having four and two seats, respectively). With Bersatu out of Pakatan, what becomes of Mukhriz’s position as MB?

Just FYI, PAS has the highest number of seats in Kedah with 15, with Umno holding two. Should Bersatu and PH not come to a consensus, the alliance between PAS and Umno could see the two parties form a minority state gomen.

Bits and bobs

We’re not just a newsletter about politics, politicians, crappy politics and politicians, U-turns and SDs. Here’s the rest of what happened in Malaysia yesterday:

  • An aircraft carrying a second batch of Malaysians evacuated from Wuhan — 66 out of the scheduled 75 — landed in KLIA yesterday morning. The nine who were also supposed to be flown out had not been able to make the flight. Like the first batch, these Malaysians will undergo health screenings and a quarantine period.
     
  • The economic stimulus package designed to cushion adverse repercussions from the Covid-19 outbreak which started in Wuhan will be announced on schedule, at 4pm today in Putrajaya.
     
  • A lawyer is challenging the royal pardon given to Anwar Ibrahim, saying it was not in accordance with the Federal Constitution as the FT Pardons Board was not formed accordingly. Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz says the board, which advises the King on pardons, must comprise the Attorney-General, the FT Minister and three others, but then AG Apandi Ali was on garden leave and there was no minister at the time as this was before PM Maddey had appointed his Cabinet.
     
  • As expected, Universiti Malaya graduate Wong Yan Ke was charged yesterday with insulting with intent to provoke breach of the peace by staging a protest against the university’s VC at his convocation last year. Wong claimed trial to the charge. Meanwhile, Suaram has condemned the Attorney-General’s Chambers for the “absurd” decision to charge Wong.
     
  • stop-work order has been issued against developers bulldozing some two million rainforest trees in what is known as a living library of trees in Tanjung Malim after conservationists kicked up a fuss over the matter. The trees, many of which are rare species, were planted in 80ha of state land by 84-year-old James Kingham as part of a lifelong project.

“I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.”

- Michael Corleone, The Godfather -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The Wuhan coronavirus has now spread to six out of the seven continents, with only Antarctica untouched by Covid-19. Brazil was the first Latin American country to have reported a case.
     
  • The death toll from riots in New Delhi during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India has risen to 24. The riots seem to pit Hindus against Muslims.
     
  • Spain has opened talks with Catalonian leaders in a bid to resolve the separatist crisis going on in the region.
     
  • A study has shown that people who drive fancy cars are the worst, especially when it comes to stopping for pedestrians. Apparently, they see themselves as superior to other road users. Who knew?
     
  • Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 32. The Russian former world number 1 has only played two games this year, struggling with injuries and poor form since returning from a 15-month drug ban in 2017.
     
  • Here’s some good news for “cattle class” air travelers. Air New Zealand has become the first airline in the world to offer sleeping pods for economy class.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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