Long list of Malaysian PM contenders, but will they ever make the mark?

IN ALL of India – the most populous country in the world – there are only two people who are attempting to claim the Prime Minister’s (PM) seat. One is Narendra Modi who is the serving PM and the other is Rahul Gandhi, the opposition leader.

In all of China, the second most populous country in the world, there is probably just one person who is claiming the top position – Xin Jinping. He is the one and only name you will hear touted for the job of China’s president.

In Malaysia however, the number of people gunning for the top job will easily exceed half a dozen. As it is, Malaysia has a large number of former premiers who are still alive. There are Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah).

Of the five, only Pak Lah can be safely discounted from wanting to be the next PM on account of ill health. Muhyiddin and Dr Mahathir are definitely still eyeing for the post.

Najib is probably focusing on getting out of jail for now and should he be successful, who is to say that he will not desire to be the PM again?

Ismail Sabri will probably say that he has no interest to be the PM again but that is only because he doesn’t really have a chance. If he had a legitimate chance of becoming the PM again, I doubt he is going to decline the opportunity either.

We already know that former health minister-turned-podcaster Khairy Jamaluddin wants to be the PM and even Dr Mahathir’s son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir probably wants the job too.

Khairy Jamaluddin now co-hosts podcast “Keluar Sekejap” following his sacking from UMNO in January 2023

Who else might be interested?

Now suspended for six years, former UMNO vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin probably think that they are just one or two lucky decisions away from being the next PM.

Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Sanusi Md Nor and his PAS comrade-cum-Terengganu counterpart Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar are another two candidates who have recently joined the list of potential PMs of Malaysia.

UMNO deputy president Datuk Mohamad Hasan a.k.a. Tok Mat’s name has always been included in the roster when the question of who is to be the next Malaysian PM is discussed.

Sheraton Move mastermind Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali used to have the desire to be the next Malaysian PM. It is probably his inability to contain such desire that caused a scandalous video of him to be released which has almost eliminated his chances now.

Despite that, there is still a sliver of a chance that Azmin might make it as the future PM of Malaysia. Though the scandalous video has dimmed his chances, it is not a smoking gun. The jury is still out as to whether it is Azmin that is starring in the video – and as long as the jury is out – the now Bersatu information chief still has a chance.

Fromer PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali is now the Bersatu information chief

But I digress. My point here is that one of the biggest problems in the Malaysian political scene today is that there are too many Malay parties and the main reason there are too many Malay parties is because there are too many ambitious Malay leaders and politicians who feel that they are fit to become the next PM of Malaysia.

UMNO Supreme Council member Datuk Isham Jalil who has been reportedly sacked from the party last night (Dec 6) has spoken of a need for the unification of Malay parties to jointly govern the nation again.

PAS deputy president Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man also said that the Islamist party is open to working with UMNO again for the sake of the ummah (Muslim solidarity).

Rotational system

The question, however, is who is going to be the one that holds the PM position. Are PAS, Bersatu and UMNO planning to rotate the position of PM as the parties in Sabah once did for the position of their chief minister?

Rotating the PM is one thing but what about all the PM’s men (and women) that the reigning PM would have put in strategic positions in order to have a good grip of the government? Are they going to be rotated too every time the PM is rotated?

PAS used to be willing to let either UMNO or Bersatu have their leaders be the PM but is today talking about naming its own candidates as the future Malaysian PM.

Dr Mahathir might look like a friend of PAS today but will he still be a friend of PAS tomorrow if the latter is able to name a PM while the former twice premier and Mukhriz are side-lined with just a thanks?

All this talk about penyatuan ummah (Muslim unification) is all fine and well but politics is about power. Politicians are in the game of accumulating power, not serving the ummah. When politicians talk, they will talk about serving the ummah or the nation but when they act, they will act in the direction of accumulating power.

Motor mouth Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Mohd Nor (right) and his Terengganu counterpart Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar are rising stars in PAS today

It is impossible to satisfy every Malay leader in the country simply because there are too many of them who are too used to being at the top to accept not being in a high profile or a decision-making position.

Comparatively, Chinese and Indian politicians in the country can accept a non-decision-making position. The only major power struggle that is occurring among the non-Malays today is that between DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng and Chow Kon Yeow for the position of Penang Chief Minister.

Despite being the party with the second highest number of parliamentarians and the biggest party in the ruling coalition, DAP leaders are not clamouring for more federal positions.

Fixing the problem

Today, UMNO might be in a lamentable position in the unity government but if it joins Perikatan Nasional (PN), it is hard to see how its position will see any improvement either.

If before it only had to contend with Bersatu for PAS was willing to sacrifice its claim so that the three Malay Muslim parties can work together. Today it will have to not only contend with Bersatu alone but PAS which is increasingly seeing itself as the first if not equal among the Malay parties with each passing day.

As Isham Jalil has said, the problem with Malaysia is that Malay parties are too disunited. The reason that they are too disunited is because they have too many ambitious leaders and politicians among them.

Each of these politicians have a lot of status, connection, clout and probably even resources that they can use to upset the rule of their rivals. Malaysia is in a state where an excuse to topple the ruling government can always be found. The state of our economy alone can provide anyone with ample reasons to criticise the ruling government.

Add class, race, pride, gender, status, religion, resources, regional issues and age to the mix, and the list of things you can use to bring down the government is never ending. While Isham Jalil has clearly identified the problem which is that the Malays are too disunited, does he know how to fix it?

The solution is of course simple. You have to put at least a third or half of the active Malay politicians to pasture in order to unite the Malays but the question is how to do so when none of the politicians are likely to go gently into the night without a fight. – Dec 7, 2023


Nehru Sathiamoorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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