There is only one way forward for Malaysia this Friday, after a full week of political turmoil and heart-stopping drama featuring ‘King Lear’ moments on the part of two older party leaders, prompted by a desperate Iago who planned to move in smartly after them. The hounds of UMNO circled.
The moment Mahathir stepped out of the palace yesterday afternoon it was clear he had lost all momentum behind his plans to snatch ‘stabilising’ powers from a situation he was largely responsible for allowing to develop. His allies had backed him up. Ready to shore him and support him after he had allowed Iago to trigger a full-scale revolt amongst his Bersatu party members.
However, it was not so simple. Bersatu was still pursuing a separate agenda and he was struggling to juggle the pieces and keep control. His solution the Agong would not allow. He had proposed a ‘unity government’ that promised only rag bag chaos or an iron fist.
The surprise had been Muhyiddin, the secret trump card up ‘Iago’s’ sleeve. Azmin had promised the Bersatu leader that he could be prime minister with PAS and UMNO support. In the dying embers of a long career this was some temptation, but who wants Muhyiddin?
Fighting back the chaos Mahathir, aged 95, had deployed his formidable energy how he knows best – with a bold attempt to rescue the situation on his own terms. But, with the Agong clear that most numbers were backing Anwar and that Mahathir’s self-imposed ‘interim’ status was one that meant what it said, by the end of yesterday it had become a losing battle for the old PM.
Pre-empting the Agong’s statement to spin his own chances was a rare political mistake. The public was alarmed and distasteful. One assumes the King was peeved. Flip flop statements regarding Bersatu and support for Muhyiddin made it worse – Muhyiddin was now committed to UMNO and state governments had started to crumble.
Defying diminishing odds, Mahathir fought on with an even more audacious unilateral announcement that Parliament would be called and MPs called to decide (forget the Agong altogether?). It didn’t work. Today the Speaker snubbed the interim PM and said he had no authority to bring back Parliament early. Due process would continue as the Agong considered who had the proven support to lead a government in the traditional way.
By this afternoon, this left the grand old man of Malaysian politics essentially defeated. Across the nation, state governments were falling to UMNO. Johor, Malacca, where Bersatu turncoats under Muhyiddin had campaigned under the banner of PKR to gain their seats were now linking up with the very forces they had campaigned against.
What treachery and what a slap in the face to the people who had voted in the PH coalition to combat corruption condemned by Mahathir himself. People on the streets have been starting to enquire if the court cases against various mega-miscreants are still proceeding? After all, the ultimate objective of up-ending a once seemingly solid coalition was mainly to get those crooks off the hook.
Can Mahathir allow this? Can he ignore the 180 degree change in popular opinion that had regarded him as Malaysia’s saviour when he rejected the Azmin coup attempt on Sunday and is now calling him a traitor from the start?
For the past 36 hours Malaysians have been furious at his Unity Government solution that planned to ditch the collegiate agreement with the political partners who had supported him all this time. Mahathir went home from meeting Bersatu today having gone from Hero to Zero in the eyes of most.
Cast as a dictator who could not stomach a promised handover to his designated partner and successor Mahathir has lost public support and he has lost momentum. There is only one way forward for a man who never in the final analysis gave up on the fundamental principles behind his government.
He must accept at last that it is time to step aside in the way he said he would and allow the traitors who have flushed themselves out to be removed from where they can do harm.