Succession issue in perspective: No intention to pass baton to Anwar after all

Mahathir should have just passed the baton of leadership to Anwar, leaving it to Anwar the problem of whether the Dewan Rakyat will back him or not as...

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Published by Malay Mail, image from Malay Mail.

As events had unfolded, it is indeed very clear that the succession issue of handing over the rein of power from then Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamed (now interim Prime Minister) to PKR President, Datuk Sri Anwar Ibrahim was far from certain.

This contradicted my earlier article early last week when I said there was at last a certainty on the succession issue.

There were two reasons for my optimism.

In the beginning, there was an agreement hatched in January 2018 just before the Fourteenth General Election (GE14) that should Pakatan Harapan were to win the election, Mahathir would be the prime minister for about two years before handing over the rein of power to Anwar.

That would mean in May this year, the succession issue will be sealed and power will be handed over to Anwar.

But soon after the first anniversary of Pakatan’s ascension to power in May last year, talks of Mahathir completing his term as PM until GE15 arose, causing some discomfort among supporters of Anwar.

To quell this uncertainty over the succession issue – whether it would happen in May 2020 or it would not happen at all – in an interview with Reuters on Dec 10, Mahathir said it for the first time: “I made a promise to hand over and I will, accepting that I thought that a change immediately before the Apec summit would be disruptive.

“As far I’m concerned, I’m stepping down and I’m handing the baton to him (Anwar). If people don’t want him, that is their business, but I will do my part of the promise… irrespective of whatever allegation. I made my promise, I keep my promise.”

With this statement, an element of uncertainty is added to the succession issue – it will be dragged to a further six months as the Apec summit is slated to take place on November this year.

We all know that the succession was supposed to take place in two years after Mahathir’s premiership. And Anwar has already said that he didn’t want to be petty about the timing in the sense that the succession does not necessarily have to take place exactly two years after Mahathir’s rule.

By this, it means that a delay of perhaps one to two months in the handover is something that Anwar felt he can agree with. But what about waiting out for six months? Will Anwar agree to this?

Thus, in trying to quell the uncertainty about the succession issue by setting a date after the November Apec summit, Mahathir actually created another uncertainty by prolonging the succession which is not a given that Anwar will accept the extension to after November.

Also, it didn’t help when asked in the same Reuters interview on whether after November means a handover could come in December 2020, Mahathir replied: “We’ll look at that when the time comes.”

Almost two months after that Dec 10 interview, Anwar finally responded on February 6, also in a Reuters interview, that he was ready to wait for six more months beyond the initially agreed May deadline to take over as prime minister from Mahathir, and that he had enough support in parliament to do so.

He was magnanimous in accepting a six-months delay.

It was only when Anwar reaffirmed again on Feb 12 during a keynote address at the Peaceful Coexistence Conference organised by Institute Darul Ehsan of his preparedness to wait out for another six months that I wrote about a certainty in the succession issue simply because for a certainty to happen, it must take two to tango.

The second reason for my optimism on the certainty of the succession issue is that in the absence of certainty, the country will face some economic instability as local and foreign investors as well as fund managers adopt a wait-and-see stance in their decision to invest in Malaysia.

For much of last year, the lacklustre performance of the Stock Exchange and the depreciation of the ringgit which had caused some significant outflow of funds from the country can be attributed to the uncertainty in the succession issue.

Just to get a feel of the impact of uncertainty on the economy, the Sunday’s event in which there was the premature talk of a change in government from Pakatan Harapan to Perikatan Nasional engineered by sacked deputy president of PKR, Azmin Ali with the connivance of Umno and PAS, followed by Mahathir’s party Bersatu withdrawing from the ruling coalition the following day, culminating in the resignation of Mahathir as PM – all these had caused the stock exchange, Bursa Malaysia, to shed some RM43.4 billion loss in market capitalisation on that Monday.

When it became clear that the political crisis is abating with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the King of Malaysia, taking over in ascertaining who among all the 222 MPs has the majority support of the parliamentarians, the 970 stocks listed on the bourse on Wednesday (Feb 26) recovered some RM20 billion from the RM43.4 billion loss.

In a statement issued yesterday (Feb 26), interim prime minister Mahathir has still not given up on the idea of forming a national unity government despite Muafakat Nasional (BN and PAS) had already given up on the idea, costing Mahathir a chunk of support.

He lost another chunk of support when the reduced Pakatan Harapan (PKR, DAP and Amanah) coalition decided on Anwar Ibrahim as their Prime Minister after Mahathir spurned their offer to support him as their PM by refusing to attend the Harapan Presidential Council meeting on Monday.

It’s quite telling too that in that same statement yesterday, Mahathir made no mention of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim or the agreement to pass the leadership baton to the latter.

“Actually, I promised that I would resign to give the Dewan Rakyat the chance to decide who will replace me. If it’s true that I still have the support, I will return. If not, I will accept whoever that is chosen.

“The chance to change the leadership remains. Except in my opinion, because I am supported by both sides, the time for me to resign as yet arrive,” he said.

This really proves the thinking of many of Anwar’s supporters that despite the agreement for handing power to Anwar after two years of Mahathir premiership, the latter has no intention at all to do this, as he is bent on giving the Dewan Rakyat to choose his successor.

By right if the agreement is observed, Mahathir should have just passed the baton of leadership to Anwar, leaving it to Anwar the problem of whether the Dewan Rakyat will back him or not as the new Prime Minister.

On hindsight, with this mindset of Mahathir, the succession issue of Anwar taking over from Mahathir will never see the light of certainty from Day 1 because it is Mahathir’s intention to stay on until GE15 as long as he gets the support of the Dewan Rakyat.

It is unfortunate that this jostling for power took place at a time when the country and the rakyat is facing economic uncertainties arising from the perennial problem of uncertainty in the global economy and also the economic uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 epidemic.

Hopefully from now on, whatever move the politicians intend to make, they would do so with the following mantra: Forget not the rakyat!

Jamari Mohtar is Director, Media & Communications at EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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