By P Gunasegaram

OF course there is – there always is, even if a Cabinet has already been formed. But if they want to stop going round and round and therefore nowhere, then they have to change the driver and navigator, which in this case is one and the same person. Yes, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

But sadly, the original Pakatan Harapan (PH) – PKR, DAP and Amanah – has shown itself to be nothing but a sucker for punishment ever since they let in Mahathir into the coalition and let him take over the reins of government, throwing reform as well as consultation out of the door. A sequence of events is necessary at this point.

It was folly to let him in first into the PH coalition in January 2018. Once he was in, and the elections were won in May 2018 and he became the first-ever prime minister to take control with just 13 seats, they tolerated his broken promises.

It was obvious he was going to block the manifesto promise of letting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim succeed him. Ultimately, that was the cause of the break-up of PH – Mahathir was not willing to let Anwar succeed him as promised and was doing everything to block that.

It was clear that the PH manifesto, which he had agreed to, was not something dear to his heart. He delayed implementing them, and he brought in Tun Daim Zainuddin to make decisions on key matters, bypassing the Cabinet.

He sowed the seeds of dissension within PKR by positioning its deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali in the key position of economic affairs minister while keeping Anwar out. He earlier endeared himself to DAP by making Lim Guan Eng finance minister. A grateful DAP endorsed his prime ministerial prerogative stance with respect to almost everything after that.

Finally, they collectively stood up to him – PKR, DAP and Amanah – and then backed off in cowardly fashion at the last minute when Mahathir refused to set a date for stepping down, handing everything back to him on a platter – again. On Feb 21, Anwar threw in the towel without a fight, letting Mahathir decide everything.

Even that was not enough for Mahathir – he was not satisfied. He schemed and plotted to get more people behind him, including those from Umno who were not corrupt. Any right-thinking person should realise there was no such person left in Umno among the ranks of MPs.

Every single MP supported either overtly or covertly the kleptocrat, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who stole billions through 1MDB. There was no such thing as an Umno MP after the general elections whose hands were not sullied and stained by 1MDB.

What was Mahathir trying to do? He was trying to get enough people on his side so that when the time came again he would not have to hand power over to Anwar because the balance of power would have tilted via crossovers and the like.

But according to accounts by various people, his own party, Bersatu, and its president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin played him out by doing a deal with Umno and PAS which would bring en bloc all MPs, including Najib and current Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in to support a new government.

Mahathir, meanwhile, only wanted MPs who were not facing court cases into the party, or so the story goes. Among them, he could pick and choose to form a sort of unity government which would have changed the structure of PH and completely altered the power balance. PAS, however, was vehemently opposed to a unity government which included DAP and so was Sarawak’s GPS.

Under such an arrangement, PH would have become irrelevant and, effectively, Mahathir would have had unfettered power whereby he could choose his own Cabinet without any hindrance and which would have meant PH’s promise of reform would have gone out the door.

As Muhyiddin linked up with Umno and PAS, Mahathir made his move without consulting his partners in PH – he resigned on Feb 24 and then was appointed interim prime minister. The latter was not a good thing because Mahathir still intended to become prime minister again.

The move basically compromised PH’s position because Mahathir’s resignation also meant the resignation of the Cabinet, leaving PH out in the cold without a government.

PH did the right thing then, supporting Anwar for prime minister. But when it looked like the numbers were not there, a desperate delegation from PH went to see Mahathir at a meeting, following which PH switched allegiance to Mahathir. Sources said it was agreed that Anwar will not become part of Mahathir’s Cabinet and Mahathir will still have the choice of picking his Cabinet.

But it was not to be and the King picked Muhyiddin to form the government. On the day of Muhyiddin’s swearing-in as PM on March 1, Mahathir said he had the numbers, but it was a scenario which was shifting by the hour and the minute as allegiances are likely to be when horse-trading takes place.

Muhyiddin has until May 18 – more than two months from now – to solidify his position, and most likely he will. Even if he does not, most likely it will lead to a general election rather than a new government with Mahathir at the helm.

The sum total of this is that the original PH coalition was betrayed by three people – Mahathir who was trying to do deals behind PH’s back and broke promises willy nilly, Muhyiddin who took Bersatu out of PH, and Azmin who took 10 PKR members, including himself, across to Bersatu.

The triple betrayal was the reason that the PH government fell. While they had the majority of MPs – 92 against the motley crew’s 36 at most – they still let that happen to them. That’s one of the silliness of politics that people find difficult to comprehend.

PH has expelled Bersatu and the Azmin 10 and it is the right thing to do. But it has chosen to align itself and what is left out of the remnants of Bersatu for Mahathir as prime minister instead of sacking him and the remnants of Bersatu from PH.

Why? On the flimsy hope that they can regain power. And what would that do even if it happens? Another round of merry-go-rounds and broken promises and uncertainties over succession and the further erosion of public confidence in the PH administration as Mahathir leads roughshod over the others – badly, the way he had over the last 22 months before the current crisis. The road to nowhere.

Now there are reports that Muhyiddin is reaching out to Mahathir to form a government with Umno which would leave PH out in the cold yet again.

What PH must do is to completely cut itself loose from Mahathir and Bersatu, the gangrene that had infected it, and take a new road back to the old reform with new drivers and navigators in place. It may not make it this time but there is always another and another after that.

Not to do so is to lose its soul and everything the party stood for, including the fight against corruption, for institutional reform and overhaul of oppressive laws which would have guaranteed a better future for all Malaysians. – March 10, 2020

(P Gunasegaram says political fortunes are cyclical.)

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