- The fate of Mahathir
THE seizure of Tun Daim Zainuddin’s RM2.3 bil Menara Ilham towards end-2023 is an indication that the ancient regime that comprises Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his inner circle will most likely be in a state of full-blown war against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the reformasi movement in 2024.
The dispute between the two biggest names in Malaysian politics of the last two or three generations has been brewing for over 25 years.
Dr Mahathir, the grand old man of Malaysian politics who has won all the political battles he has fought in his long and chequered political career, is facing the biggest political battle of his life.
He was instrumental in the toppling of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the founding father of Malaysia. He has brought down the political heavyweights of his times like Tun Musa Hitam and Razeleigh Hamzah.
Dr Mahathir has even confronted and tamed the Malaysian royalty. His dispute with Tun Salleh Abas, the then lord president of the Federal (then Supreme) Court of Malaysia, eviscerated the power and prestige of the Malaysian Judiciary.
To top it all, his dispute with Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the sixth Malaysian premier, has not only brought UMNO, the grand old party of Malaysian politics to the brink of ruin but also resulted in Najib being the first Malaysian prime minister (PM) to be thrown in jail.
Dr Mahathir’s feud with the then deputy PM Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (AFC), not only resulted in Anwar being put behind bars but also ruined and permanently stained the latter’s reputation.
Other than his various political battles, Dr Mahathir is also known as the PM who reigned during the golden age of Malaysia.
From the Penang Bridge to Putrajaya to the PETRONAS Twin Towers, he is credited for creating and overseeing a host of projects that fast-tracked Malaysia’s development and almost succeeded in transforming Malaysia into a developed nation.
However, Dr Mahathir’s reign is also marred by accusations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. It was under his watch, too, that his critics will claim that the seeds of religious tension and racial divide which beset the nation until today gained a foothold.
To-date, 98-year-old Dr Mahathir might have won all of the battles he fought in his life but it is his final conflict with Anwar that is going to be the one that determines his legacy.
Regardless of the outcome, the fate of the man who has cast a huge shadow in all aspects of the Malaysian experience for the last two or three generations is going to be the most anticipated political development in Malaysia in 2024.
- The survivability of the unity government
Since the downfall of Najib in 2018, no Malaysian government has been able to reign for more than 2 years. DR Mahathir who made a comeback to replace Najib only managed to reign for 22 months.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who toppled Mahathir, reigned for 17 months while Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob who succeeded Muhyiddin only managed to last 15 months.
Anwar’s unity government has so far managed to reign for 13 months. If it manages to reign for a couple more months, it would have exceeded the tenure of Ismail Sabri’s administration, hence breaking the curse that has struck down all of Malaysia’s government since 2018.
If the unity government managed to reign until the end of 2024, it would have succeeded in reigning for two years If it manages to cross the two-year point, it would have crossed a critical point which will likely result in it gaining momentum that will ensure that it continues to reign for at least one full term.
The road to reach end-2024 however, is beset with trials and tribulations. From racial and religious tension to economic troubles to an impending war with the old order, the unity government will likely have its hands full trying to make it to end-2024 in one piece.
- What the new Agong is going to do
In an interview with the Singapore Straits Times, Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar who is slated to be Malaysia’s 17th Agong (king) come end-January has said a great many things that are unusual for an Agong.
As the new Malaysia’s new King, he has vowed to crack down on graft. To indicate his seriousness, Sultan Ibrahim has even indicated that he wants the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and national oil corporation PETRONAS to report directly to the office of the King.
In a rather direct-sounding salvo, Sultan Ibrahim is even indicating that he desires to scalp some big names when he assumes office. “From my great-grandfather, we were great hunters. I make sure when I go hunting, I bring back nice games. But when I’m in KL, it’s a concrete jungle, so what do I hunt? I’m going to hunt all the corrupt people. I make sure I bring results,” he had told the Singapore Straits Times.
Other than indicating that he will be playing a very active role in the anti-corruption campaign in the country, the next king of Malaysia is also indicating that he is going to have a lot to say about how the country is managed, including in determining if such a project as the High-Speed Rail (HSR) between Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Singapore is revived.
Sultan Ibrahim sounds like he really means what he is saying because he was even specific on how he wants the HSR project to be revived. He wishes for the HSR between KL and Singapore to be so aligned that its border crossing will occur at the Forest City.
All this is very novel because no king in the history of Malaysia has ever spoken about their desire to take such an active role in running our country before.
The reign of His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim has not even started but it is already showing signs that it is not going to be like the reign of any other king that Malaysia has had thus far.
- Economy, economy, economy
Our priority for 2024 is certainly, the economy, economy, economy,” Anwar has already declared to indicate that re-vitalising the economy will be the main priority of his administration this year.
As it is, his administration is already making plans to increase electricity tariff which will affect 15% of domestic consumers starting from Jan 1 aside from introducing a targeted subsidy for petrol in 2H 2024.
Although there are no plans yet to introduce any new taxation system, talks of re-introducing the GST (goods and services tax) that was scrapped in 2018 by Anwar’s own Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, are already making its rounds.
Inflation and skyrocketing prices of even basic goods like rice and eggs are already testing the confidence that people have in Anwar’s administration.
The battered Malaysian ringgit which is the second worst performing currency in Asia in 2023 as well as the unprecedented RM 1.5 tril debt is also another source of headache for the Malaysian government.
Add that to the lethargic global economy and the dramatic rise in geopolitical tension, all signs point to a stressful economic year for Malaysia in 2024.
Anwar’s government is made up of four coalitions and 19 parties with different and often conflicting views on many fronts. It is being opposed by a powerful opposition that is frequently threatening to topple its reign.
It is also overseeing a period where racial and religious differences are increasing and causing palpable stress in the fabric of Malaysian society.
The one thing that is holding together the increasingly difficult-to-govern Malaysian society is a functioning though hobbling economy that can still sustain life and forward the aspirations of all Malaysians.
If Anwar’s administration cannot fix the economy or worse sees the economy take a dive in 2024, not only can he forget about taking on Dr Mahathir but he can kiss his reign goodbye.
Everything Anwar’s administration hopes for in 2024 depends on the confidence of the people and the confidence of the people depends on the performance of the economy. If Anwar’s administration loses the economy, it will lose everything. – Jan 3, 2024
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.