Analysts: Too soon to write off Dr M

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters at the Al-Bukhary Foundation, Kuala Lumpur January 17, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters at the Al-Bukhary Foundation, Kuala Lumpur January 17, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — The political quagmire in the past week that started with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation and culminated in Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin becoming the prime minister left many in shock but has not eroded the people’s trust in the former, according to analysts.

Political analysts even suggested that the turn of events over the last week may have improved the public perception of the former PM.

“His standing among the public is still high, compared to Muhyiddin, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,” said James Chin, the director of Asia Institute in University of Tasmania.

Separately, political observers Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam and Universiti Utara Malaysia’s (UUM) Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani also viewed Dr Mahathir as still a force to be reckoned with.

Ramon, who is the director of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute and the chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, said Dr Mahathir is still needed to help fight politicians viewed as kleptocrats, racists and corrupt.

“He still has the capacity to contribute and lead us out of this abyss we found the country in,” he said.

However, Ramon proposed that Dr Mahathir take on a less prominent role due to his advanced age.

“We should let the 95-year-old man rest, have some compassion for him, let the younger leaders take over the fight while he continues to support as an advisor,” he said.

Azizuddin pointed out that Dr Mahathir was integral to Pakatan Harapan’s survival and most importantly to maintain support from the Malay ground.

“Pakatan still needs someone to pull the people and rally behind them and that person is Dr Mahathir,” he said.

Chin concurred that Dr Mahathir remained the only Malay leader that the Malay ground trusts to work with non-Malay leaders in Pakatan.

“Half of PH’s MPs are non-Malays and I doubt that the Malay ground will trust PH if not for Dr Mahathir,” he said.

Chin said more Malaysians are now supportive of Dr Mahathir due to his stand in refusing to allow Umno leaders to be part of the government.

“I think the public is still angry with Umno and 1MDB,” he said, referring to the scandal involving former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the sovereign fund.

Azizuddin said many Malay supporters believed that Dr Mahathir was wronged by his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

“This is why they will continue to support him because he was wronged and now all Pakatan needs to do is to conduct ceramahs and gatherings to get the people’s support,” he said.

Not the end for Pakatan

Even though Muhyiddin was sworn in on Sunday, the analysts believed that this was not the end for PH.

“The game is still not finished, we will have to wait, never write off Dr Mahathir,” Chin said while pointing out that Dr Mahathir had previously gotten rid of three former prime ministers and three deputy prime ministers.

“He still has politics in his blood,” he said.

Chin said Pakatan has already started the narrative that Dr Mahathir as the defender who was betrayed will portray him as the victim of this political intrigue.

Azizuddin agreed that Dr Mahathir will not stand aside and let the new coalition under Muhyiddin continue governing the country.

“I think he will do something. He is not one who will accept defeat,” he said.

For now, they said it is best that Pakatan and Dr Mahathir concentrate on rallying for support from the people and the MPs.

Azizuddin said the current government under Muhyiddin is still fragile with a very slim majority so it could be toppled even if five MPs were to switch sides.

He said PH leaders have shown they were serious in reforms and had recorded some achievements since 2018.

“The people will see this and maybe Pakatan will be able to mobilise the support they needed,” he said.

Dr Mahathir resigned as the prime minister last Monday and was subsequently appointed as interim prime minister while Bersatu left the Pakatan coalition.

Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had to interview all 222 MPs to collate the number of support for one person to be appointed as prime minister.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong finally appointed Muhyiddin as the prime minister for having the most support with his allies, Umno, PAS, GPS and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s camp from PKR.

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