KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — While the nation continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, tensions between former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and current incumbent Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is once again on the rise, with political tit-for-tat taking place between both parties.
This includes a recent blog post, in which Dr Mahathir, who is also the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman, came to the defence of former ally DAP, lamenting that Malays could not see that the party was not its worst enemy.
This apparent pivot to prop up DAP is seen as a means for Dr Mahathir to not only remain politically relevant but to ensure his public support, analysts have suggested.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Azmi Hassan stated that Dr Mahathir is left with very few options as he is bleeding overall Malay support.
“It is obvious that Dr Mahathir realises that he has lost support not only from his former party but the Malays in general. With Umno and PAS’ strong grip on the Malays, Dr Mahathir has no choice but to back DAP in order to make him relevant politically come the 15th general election.
“With Dr Mahathir most probably out of Bersatu and with PKR’s internal struggle affecting its Malay-based support, Dr Mahathir’s choice is very limited,’’ said the professor, adding that the current situation is similar to the scenario before the 2018 polls.
Azmi then points to the current political situation in Kedah, where the state Opposition claimed it has 23 lawmakers who declared a loss of confidence in vice-president and Dr Mahathir’s son Datuk Seri Mukhriz’s leadership.
“Looking at what happened in Kedah where not only PKR state legislators quit the party to support Muhyiddin but also Bersatu assemblymen did the same, this is the manifestation of how Dr Mahathir’s influence in Bersatu is diminishing rapidly.
“I think when the Kedah mentri besar is ousted, it is a clear signal that the majority of Bersatu MPs and its state counterparts will align themselves with Muhyiddin. And in most probability, Dr Mahathir and Mukhriz won’t get the chance to contest in the Bersatu election,’’ said Azmi.
It is likely that both Dr Mahathir and Mukhriz will either be sacked from the party which they founded or be prevented from contesting in its election, said Azmi.
“Yes, they will be booted out from Bersatu before the party election or if Muhyiddin feels confident enough, he can let the father and son contest and let the delegates make their choice. In either case, I think this will spell the end for both of them unless other allies such as DAP and PKR come to their rescue.
“And this is where Dr M comes all out ridiculing the group who are suspicious about DAP and ups his ante in demonising few Umno leaders who are on trial right now,’’ he said.
However, Mukhriz has previously stressed that the party cannot sack any members without first hearing them out.
For senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun, Dr Mahathir’s recent position indicates that the senior politician is well past compromising with Muhyiddin.
“For about two months after the latest change of government, Dr Mahathir has been ambivalent or even equivocal in his political attitude and stance, perhaps deliberately so to achieve certain political ends, such as hopefully Muhyiddin and Azmin’s repentant return to Dr Mahathir’s camp,” he said, referring to PKR turncoat-turned-senior minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.
“On the one hand, Dr Mahathir obviously pulled his punches when it came to criticising Muhyiddin’s rule, giving the impression that Dr Mahathir tacitly agreed that all should give Muhyiddin a chance to prove himself. On the other hand, he pulled no punches in continuing to vehemently criticise Anwar as essentially power-hungry. But all changed with the mounting of the motions of no confidence — some coming from no other than Dr Mahathir himself.
“That put Dr M solidly back into the PH camp (for the moment), and he needs to consolidate his renewed camaraderie with his erstwhile PH allies and therefore his basic support base. Hence the joint statements with Anwar, the sudden defence of DAP and various other antics to come, at a time when he feels that it is no longer feasible to try to come to some sort of accommodation with the Muhyiddin camp in his party,’’ he said.
Oh was referring to a joint statement made by Mahathir and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on May 9, where both leaders vowed to return the people’s mandate following the formation of the Perikatan Nasional administration in February.
Oh stated that Dr Mahathir’s Malay supporters or sympathisers could be roughly divided into three sometimes interrelated categories, which are: urban Malays who are often more (but not excessively so) liberal, the semi-rural and rural Malays who recognise Dr Mahathir’s role in transforming the country from an agricultural society to a largely industrialised one, improving their socioeconomic lot in the process ,and the opportunistic, who would jump on whichever political vessel they perceive as being beneficial to their material or other “wellbeing”.
“I think most of Dr M’s supporters and sympathisers in Bersatu fall into the last two categories, and especially the last category.
“That is why Dr M had to moot the motions and so on to demonstrate his political relevance and create the impression that the ‘wind’ is blowing his way. So the Muhyiddin side counter-attacked and toppled the Kedah government under Mukhriz, to take the wind away from under his (and his father’s) sail, so to say,’’ said Oh.
“But Malaysian politicians are quite resilient, capable of bouncing back from even the worst of political defeats, as were vividly demonstrated by both Dr M and Muhyiddin, and even Mukhriz over the last half decade,’’ he added.
Independent political analyst and veteran economist Hoo Ke Ping also weighed into Dr Mahathir’s current position, stating it was done simply out of political survival.
“It is obvious he has little choice as both sides see him as a liability now and he is left with only DAP to cling on,’’ said the professor.
However the situation poses an irony, stated Hoo, as Dr Mahathir often lambasted and demonised DAP during his first 22 year tenure as prime minister-cum-Umno president.
Hoo also stated that it would be awkward for Dr Mahathir to lean on PKR as certain elements within the party, and even DAP, want him to step down from his post previously.