Concede PM post and work with Anwar as PKR has stronger base, analysts tell Dr Mahathir

Danial Dzulkifly, Azril Annuar And Yiswaree Palansamy
Pakatan Harapan and its allies, including Dr Mahathir’s faction, dubbed 'PH Plus' are in a stalemate over their choice of candidate to be prime minister, with PKR adamant that it would only accept Anwar while the rest continue to push Dr Mahathir as an interim compromise. — Picture by Azneal Ishak

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — With both Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim adamant about being the helmsman of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies, several political observers have suggested that the former should give way to the latter.

Speaking to Malay Mail, the analysts said compared to Dr Mahathir who is now just heading a disputed faction of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Anwar is still leading PKR as its president with the party holding a stronger voter base.

“This is going to lead Pakatan Harapan to self-destruct, and it is going to destroy Dr Mahathir and Anwar. It is a lose-lose situation because both parties, both sides are adamant. Mahathir is suspicious of Anwar, Anwar is suspicious of Mahathir.

“So there are no two ways about it, and the only way is for one of them to compromise. But based on the current situation, I don’t think that is going to happen,” Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Jeniri Amir said.

“When PH collapses, of course, it is going to benefit Perikatan Nasional (PN), and indirectly, they are going to strengthen Perikatan Nasional politically. With Mahathir, I don’t understand. He is partyless, and he only has the support of five MPs and he has already been prime minister twice. 

“I think Mahathir should make the sacrifice. Support Anwar instead of asking him to sacrifice,” he added.

Jeniri also said that Dr Mahathir should instead come to terms with himself, considering his advanced age.

“What can he do in six months? What’s going to happen? He won’t be able to do much. He is going to be a lame-duck prime minister like he always mentioned,” Jeniri said.

Geostrategist Prof Azmi Hasan, however, admitted that it will not be possible for PH to work with both Anwar and Dr Mahathir without a viable solution that is acceptable to both men.

Ultimately, PH needs to choose the one with a stronger support base, which, in this regard, Azmi also agrees would make Anwar the better choice.

“The decision basically is at PH’s feet and not Dr Mahathir’s or Anwar’s. If both can’t agree to work together, PH needs to choose either Dr Mahathr or Anwar, and basically the decision lies with who can provide more support in terms of getting the votes. 

“As I see it now, it is better strategically for PH to work with Anwar since PKR has more formidable grassroots support compared to Dr Mahathir and Parti Warisan Sabah,” Azmi said.

“The ideal situation is PH having both Dr Mahathir and Anwar on their side but this can only happen if PH can come up with a PM post solution that is acceptable to both men. 

“But look at how Netanyahu and Gantz agreed for the PM post to be on a rotational basis even though they can’t see eye to eye just because they need each other in order to successfully form a government.”

Azmi was referring to the recently concluded Israel national elections which saw the Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu form a unity government with its rival, the Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz.

The formation of the unity government put an end to 500 days of political stalemate in Israel, after both parties agreed to power share.

In their agreement, Netanyahu will remain as prime minister for 18 months before handing the reins over to Gantz for the remainder of the three-year term.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun also said that both Anwar and Dr Mahathir are just playing a high stakes game of political “chicken” to see who will yield first.

“No, they are just trying to see who blinks first. Anwar is not stupid; he knows he can’t garner a majority either by MP inducement or by general election if he leads the coalition.

“So, he needs not only the old man to not gun for the PM post, but the old man’s blessing him as well,” said Oh, referring to Dr Mahathir.

PH and its allies, including Dr Mahathir’s faction, dubbed “PH Plus” are in a stalemate over their choice of candidate to be prime minister, with PKR adamant that it would only accept Anwar while the rest continue to push Dr Mahathir as an interim compromise.

DAP and Amanah also sought to convince Anwar and his party to accept the deal by saying the agreed transition and timeline would be formalised in a written agreement.

Anwar had also rejected Dr Mahathir’s proposal that he would helm the position of prime minister for six months before handing over the reins to the PKR president.

However, Anwar stated that he was not opposed to an advisory role for Dr Mahathir, possibly in the shape of a senior minister or minister mentor as was practised in Singapore when Lee Kuan Yew stepped down.

Oh said that pragmatically-speaking, Dr Mahathir is irreplaceable when it comes to swinging conservative Malay rural votes in favour of PH against PN — something that Anwar is unable to do as his strength lies with more liberal-minded urban Malays.

“The cold, harsh political realities on the ground is such that Mahathir is irreplaceable for swinging but a small percentage of conservative voters or MPs in favour of PH, which Anwar is unable to effectuate.

“Whereas PH supporters would likely vote against Perikatan with or without Anwar. So, Anwar is more dispensable than Mahathir. New PH leaders may appeal to PH supporters but have no wider appeal in conservative camps,” said Oh.

Dr Mahathir touched on this same topic in an interview with Asia Times that was published yesterday, saying that PH’s attempt to wrest back Putrajaya would likely be determined by strength in numbers — something that Anwar as the prime minister candidate may not be able to guarantee.

“It’s not about distrust. It’s about getting the support of the people,” he was quoted as saying. 

“While Anwar used to be very popular, now he has lost quite a bit of the support. 

“I believe these people will not support an attempt to make a comeback by Pakatan Harapan if he is designated as prime minister.”

Dr Mahathir went on to admit that even he felt being prime minister for the third time might be a touch excessive, but added that many had suggested he might have make-or-break significance.

“A lot of people feel that, for a time at least, I should come back. I have no wish to come back. I mean, coming back three times is a bit too much. [Laughs] 

“Again, the appeal by people is there, they all come, they all ask [and say] that if you are in, we will support. If you are not in, we will not support.

“So, I have to take their views seriously because if we in the Opposition now want to bring down the present government, we need to have a majority. At the moment, we do not have a majority,” he said.

When asked why Anwar can’t forge that majority and he can, Dr Mahathir claimed that some remained strongly opposed to him being named as the prime minister designate.

“Well, he has certain support, I agree with that. But there are certain people who are so strongly against him that if he is named, they will not give the support,” he was quoted as saying. 

“And we need quite a number of supporters from the government party so that we can have the majority. I fear that there will be no majority if it depends on him alone. I would like to help him.”

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