Confidence and its erosion in Dewan Rakyat

FEBRUARY 21 — Get close enough, and let politics do the rest.

Which is why 118 keeps rattling in my head.

The existentialist threat for the Mahathir Mohamad administration is the unthinkable triangle of PKR, Umno and PAS as the new parliamentary majority. PKR’s 50 seats, Umno’s (includes the 3 lackeys left in Barisan Nasional — MIC’s Tapah, MCA’s Ayer Hitam and direct member’s Cameron Highlands) 40 and PAS’ 18 seats. 108 seats, four left to the required 112 to unseat the current Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Close enough to bring it home.

In theory.

When the Islamists’ secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan confirmed the party formally backs Mahathir in any no-confidence vote, following president Abdul Hadi Awang’s meet with the prime minister days before, the possibility thinned out.

The possible 90 from PKR and Umno (+3) would not suffice, and they’d be outside looking in. As did Pakatan Rakyat — Pakatan Harapan’s precursor — through 2008-20018 with less than 90 seats in total.

There are obvious practical doubts; would the Speaker allow the motion when a kamikaze MP proposes it and how can it be possible when the only candidate Anwar Ibrahim has dismissed the notion?

However, other manoeuvres lend strength to the rumours.

The PKR president upon return as MP to the house asked to lead the lower house’s business agenda rather than a Cabinet seat.

When parliament convenes in March, Anwar will be a lift button away from the Dewan Rakyat floor in Kuala Lumpur overlooking Lake Gardens while Mahathir commits himself to official tasks in Putrajaya. The MEX Highway is quick, but not that quick.

PAS’s position is insurance for Mahathir. It’s the nature of insurance purchase, to be worried over possibilities and not probabilities.

In the eventuality of a challenge, Mahathir has a firm 129 [Pakatan Harapan’s 75 (Bersatu Pribumi’s 22, DAP’s 42, Amanah’s 11), plus Sabah allies’ 10, Sarawak partners’ 19, seven independents and now PAS’ 18].

It could be a tender 111 without PAS.

The PAS guarantee feeds Pakatan’s confidence today. A general election is a different matter.

Possible is good enough

Without PAS, it’s still possible even if not probable, for a power-grab.

Cue the theory of “close enough, use politics to reach the finishing line,” which has history.

In 1994, Sabah’s Usno reformed as Umno lost the state election but were close. Before PBS was able to swear in to lead the state, enough defections turned the result on its head.

In 2008, Pakatan broke BN’s two-thirds but with just 80 parliamentary seats dared to dream, a pledge to unseat Abdullah Badawi’s government by Malaysia Day, six months after the general. Built on 80 being close enough to 112 therefore forcing BN desertions primarily in Borneo, to finish the job.

One Sabah party bolted, SAPP (Sabah Progressive Party) with two seats crossing the aisle. Others were caught in perpetual rumour-mongering, opinion editorials and even a rushed study trip to Taiwan. They stayed with BN, the jittery MPs, and Pakatan’s ambition foiled.

During 2013, Pakatan constantly argued publicly that if they reached a hundred seats at the general the remaining necessary would follow through attraction. That only a few more could get Pakatan across the line.

Looking back, it worked the first time, and failed the two subsequent times, and the same person’s fingerprints were on all attempts. Anwar’s.

So, it’s difficult to rule Anwar out of a putsch, now that he leads parliament’s day to day business from the inside on the same side of the Speaker and with clear power over PKR as its formal president. He may fancy his chances, even if not all of PKR follow him.

Again, this is not to summarily suggest a plot, but Team Mahathir surely wants to mitigate risk and avoid being labelled the staggeringly inept who did not see that ruse approaching.

The alternate narrative

While Mahathir fears enemies within, the rush for parliamentary reinforcements may have more noble origins.

The narrative, hold back the cynicism, Mahathir senses it far more difficult to shift the country’s gear in quick time, particularly over race relations and economy, and instead seeks to implement the constitutional shifts in the legislative chamber which would protect the country.

Moves which require two-thirds in Dewan Rakyat.

To allow 18-year-olds to vote, automatic voter registration, term limits for prime ministers and transferring oversight for critical transparency agencies, like anti-corruption and attorney-general office roles, to Parliament and away from the executive.

Measures which may guarantee the long-term democratic stability of the country.

The optimistic view, a harmonious Pakatan’s 125 [PKR (50), DAP (42), Bersatu Pribumi (22) and Amanah (11)], Borneo friends (29) with state autonomy as bargaining chip and seven from the future Bersatu Pribumi members, now independents, handing to Mahathir a super-majority of 161 seats.

Law after law passed, with the constitution recalibrated to reflect a more modern and progressive Malaysia.

While they still can.

For this might be probably the last stable super-majority. For Mahathir can cobble together this; because of his newfound reformist cap with the rubber boots from decades in power to help him wade through the filth of the mangled up BN universe.

Constitutional amendments may become elusive post-GE15 and post-Mahathir.

Pribumi Bersatu will not be the same party when Mahathir leaves, DAP likely to suffer for their unwillingness to embrace Malaysia on Malaysia’s terms, Amanah holding on to DAP’s coattails and the roller-coaster world of Borneo politics will guarantee only surprises.

There is a window to bring in great laws to make Malaysia better. Which is now.

Which is it?

Either way, Mahathir wants a firmer grip of power through parliament.

How magnanimous he’d be is left to be written.  

The inevitable by-product of a stronger handle on Dewan Rakyat might also fend off Anwar from a formal promotion for a longer period.

Anwar for his part, may adhere to the deal struck, two years, but appreciates every stratagem which weakens Mahathir’s parliamentary majority, adding pressure on the nonagenarian.

Equally if uncertain support in parliament draws Mahathir to rely on Anwar to get the job done, then Anwar’s star will rise.

In these volatile days, it can be forgiven even if not impressed by these methods to power.

But don’t be bought by anyone saying the present situation is straightforward. There is nothing what it seems in Parliament these days, unfortunately.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.