MALAYSIAN politics was thrown into turmoil early this week when the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, tendered his resignation due to a crisis within the government.
It should be remembered that Mahathir came back from political limbo in 2017 to lead the newly formed coalition Pakatan Harapan in ousting the scandal tainted Barisan Nasional government of Naji Rahman and the UMNO or United Malay National Organization.
The UMNO has been Malaysia’s ruling party since independence, and Barisan was the coalition it led, with other regional and sectoral parties as members. Mahathir was once head of UNNO, during which he was Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister. Mahathir quit UMNO in 2016 to join his own political party, Bersatu, which then allied with others including the Democratic Action Party and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
In 2018 when Mahathir and Harapan won, there was an understanding that he would not serve his full term as prime minster but would turn over the leadership to Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar was once an UMNO member like Mahathir and in fact served as Mahathir’s deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998. But Mahathir sacked Anwar and in 1999 had him jailed on various charges. They remained estranged after that, but set aside their differences for the battle against UMNO, their former party, and Barisan Nasional.
Since 2018 there had always been speculation about the transition agreement and whether it would be honored. Mahathir consistently said he would honor the agreement but never set a date for it, while Anwar publicly kept his peace. It was only recently that there were rumblings of discontent among PKR members of Harapan, with some going public with their sentiments that Mahathir should give way to Anwar now. This was the situation when members of Harapan led by a prominent critic of Anwar broke away to form an independent party, claiming they were against any transition and believed that Mahathir should serve out his full term.
This was followed by the breakaway of members of Mahathir’s Bersatu – guaranteeing that the coalition that formed a government in 2018 no longer had a majority in the Parliament and triggering Mahathir’s resignation as Bersatu chairman and as prime minister. In an interesting twist never before done, the resignation was accepted by the King but he also asked Mahathir to continue to serve as interim prime minister while the confusion was sorted out.
In the meantime, rumors are rife that some members of UMNO will break away to join Bersatu and the Harapan “rebels” and gather enough votes to keep Mahathir as prime minister and again deny Anwar his chance to become prime minister. So questions are being asked: Did Mahathir himself trigger this whole crisis to be rid of his promise to Anwar and to be able to hold on to the position of prime minister?
If you think this is messy, think again. We have our own version of a promise of transition here. When members of the House of Representatives were torn between three contenders for the speakership, President Duterte hammered out a term-sharing agreement between Alan Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco: the Taguig congressman would serve from July 2019 to October 2020 or 15 months, while the Marinduque solon would be speaker for the last 21 months of the Duterte administration. But now rumors are flying fast that the Velasco camp is already plotting a leadership challenge instead of waiting for October.
I suppose whether you are Malaysian or Filipino, you need to take promises made by politicians with more than just a grain of salt. And expect your BP to rise as a result of the sodium in your bloodstream!