By Abdul Rashid Hasnol
RECENTLY, ex-Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tun Musa Hitam, during a media interview, expressed his distrust for his former PM boss, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Animosity between the two is legendary, although the duo weren’t always at odds. Musa was Dr Mahathir’s first of four DPMs. In fact, the media had in the 1980s labelled the tag-team as the “2Ms”.
But with hindsight, Dr Mahathir almost never had a lasting cordial tie with his deputies and it didn’t take long for the 2Ms to have a falling out. In no time, Musa was ousted after he and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah teamed up in a failed coup to topple Dr Mahathir in an Umno election.
If there’s anyone who would know Dr Mahathir as an individual, it would be Musa. Their relationship dates back to the time when both were up-and-coming leaders in Umno. Having worked with and for the fourth PM, Musa’s recent and rare public insight on Dr Mahathir’s character is telling, although probably not unexpected.
One of Musa’s successors would probably share similar sentiments. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was Dr Mahathir’s third DPM and saw his chance of becoming premier robbed right before his very eyes, not once, but twice.
Despite being Dr Mahahtir’s anointed successor and within striking distance of the coveted premiership, Anwar was sacked as DPM in 1998 based on sodomy and corruption charges which the latter claimed was “trumped up”.
Fast forward 20 years later, the bitter foes set aside their chequered past to topple Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the 2018 general election. Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in the watershed polls, with Dr Mahathir sworn in as PM for a record second time with the understanding that he would hand over powers to Anwar at an “appropriate time”.
In PH’s 22-month in power, Dr Mahathir refused to set a clear timeline for the transition of power. The closest indication was after the Nov 2020 APEC Summit. This was when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin took advantage of the Mahathir-Anwar split and seized power, yet again denying Anwar the chance to be PM.
Had Dr Mahathir been more forthcoming about a transition timeline, Anwar would have almost certainly been the eighth PM, and not Muhyiddin. Unless of course, Dr Mahathir never planned to hand over power to Anwar in the first place.
Why would all these matters? Isn’t the question of Dr Mahathir’s trustworthiness moot now that he’s left Putrajaya and commands only a handful of MPs in his yet-to-be-registered Pejuang?
On the one hand, it is true that the race to Putrajaya is between political pacts like Barisan Nasional (BN), Perikatan Nasional (PN) and PH, of which Pejuang is neither a part of. This school of thought regards Pejuang as an “also-ran”.
On the other hand, the fluid nature of Malaysian politics, especially after Umno declared over the weekend that it would withdraw support for Muhyiddin in the general election, means that it is fair game come the general election.
As the country’s elder statesman and the grandfather of political machinations, Dr Mahathir may yet pull a rabbit out of the hat. If he does so, his allies, foes and voters should bear in mind Musa’s reminder about just how trustworthy this two-time Prime Minister is. – April 1, 2021
Abdul Rashid Hasnol is a FocusM contributor
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.