Removal of ‘Bersatu Five’ springboard for Dr Mahathir’s do-or-die offensive against Muhyiddin, say analysts

Kenneth Tee And Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
Analysts agreed that Dr Mahathir will fight tooth and nail in retaliation against his sacking. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 — Yesterday’s sacking of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and four other Bersatu MPs for not backing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government in the May 18 Parliament sitting may just be the catalyst for the former to launch a counter-offensive in order to seize control of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

Others who received similar notices are deputy president and Jerlun MP, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Kubang Pasu MP Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman and Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik.

Political analysts who spoke to Malay Mail suggested that Dr Mahathir will definitely exhaust all avenues and will not “give up” without a fight.

“Well, Dr Mahathir would, of course, denounce this firing from this party he formed with Muhyiddin a number of years ago and perhaps he would say things such as it didn't go through the due process or right procedure.

“He might then appeal to the Registrar of Societies (RoS) and may even seek a judicial review. If he does seek a judicial review, there is the possibility the judge concerned may issue a temporary injunction, but that remains to be seen,” senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun said.

Another keen observer of Malaysian politics, who did not rule out Dr Mahathir, is Universiti Malaya Associate Prof Madya Awang Azman Awang Pawi.

“In the history of Dr Mahathir’s political intrigue, he will react aggressively when pressured by his political enemies and challengers. 

“It is here that the real Dr Mahathir and his true colours will emerge,” he said, adding that the sacking will provide a justification for Dr Mahathir to act against Muhyiddin’s faction. 

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia's (UTM) Prof Azmi Hassan said Dr Mahathir would surely challenge the sacking since it was advantageous for the latter to remain in Bersatu, a party he co-founded with Muhyiddin in 2016.

When asked whether he would consider membership of a new political party, all of them unanimously agreed that Dr Mahathir will not be joining any existing party and may seek to either form a new one or return to Bersatu at any cost.

An expected move

It was only a matter of time, as the analysts put it, of when the house-cleaning would eventually take place coupled with the ongoing personal feud between Muhyiddin and Dr Mahathir. 

Oh said the firing was not exactly “shocking” for those who had observed political developments in recent months, citing how Mukhriz was essentially deposed from his position as Kedah mentri besar.

“It also demonstrates that perhaps from Muhyiddin’s point of view, he would also have in a sense a clean house because Umno is forcing his hand and he would have to make sure he has a clean house within his party before encountering a much more serious challenge from Umno — his political coalition partner,” he said.

Awang Azman dubbed the move “a timely political strategy” as it coincided with the Bersatu’s upcoming party elections where Mukhriz was challenging Muhyiddin for the presidency. Dr Mahathir has already won the chairman post uncontested.

While the move may be seen as Muhyiddin’s attempt to consolidate his leadership in Bersatu, analysts believe that the move will spell instability in the long run in the fragile minority party within the PN government with both Umno and PAS exerting pressure as well.

“In the short term, Muhyiddin has successfully prevented Mukhriz and Dr Mahathir from wresting internal control of Bersatu. 

“However, in the long term, Bersatu will be faced with attempts from Dr Mahathir and his allies to retake control of the party through legal means by disputing their sackings,” he said.

Azman said the sacking could eventually culminate in the destruction of Bersatu.

Double-edged sword for Pakatan Harapan?

With the latest development, the Opposition bloc led by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition will now likely seek to benefit from the fallout. 

For Awang Azman, the sacking of Dr Mahathir and his allies is expected to strengthen the Opposition bloc as they are left with no choice but to further PH’s political agenda; thus, ceding to the leadership of the three component parties.

“This is because the coalition is more dominant than Dr Mahathir’s faction which only make up a fraction that is left without any significant political bargaining powers,” he said.

But Azmi argued that the sacking would weaken the Opposition as there may not be an exodus of Bersatu members and there could be uneasiness among the component parties in accepting the five MPs into their fold.

“It is also going to create some sort of uneasiness in Pakatan if the five joined DAP, PKR or Amanah since these five, especially Dr Mahathir, are quite dominant and opinionated.”

Oh suggested that there could even be some sort of rapprochement between Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin’s faction, noting the week of political turmoil which led to the collapse of the PH government in February where politicians from across the political divide switched their allegiances overnight or mere hours between supporting factions.

As he put it, Malaysian politics can always work wonders in the face of impossibility.

“Would we see a sort of rapprochement between Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin’s faction? Well, I would not rule that out. Even as soon as a few days from now, they could suddenly see eye-to-eye, especially in terms of political interest matching each other. 

“If the political stars somehow aligned with each other, why not? I would see, for example, them coming back together, possibly Mukhriz being some sort of heir apparent to both Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin,” he said.

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