Anwar’s play in Malaysia’s Game of Thrones

A. Kathirasen, FMT

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, the leader of aspiring political force Muda, has launched a campaign called PauseMalaysia. Essentially, he’s calling for a ‘ceasefire’ among politicians trying to outmanoeuvre each other.

He feels if there is no politicking, political leaders can all concentrate on defeating Covid-19.

He’s not the first to call for this. Others have done so too, including Umno Youth Chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki who, in June, suggested a political ceasefire. Asyraf went a step further on Oct 2 when he specifically called on PKR president Anwar Ibrahim to postpone his plans to take over Putrajaya.

If he thinks Anwar will do so, he must be the most naïve politician in the country.

A question arises: Would he have made the same call if, say, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was going to meet the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to show he had the numbers to form a new government?

While I understand that such calls may be well-intentioned because the nation is facing the Covid-19 pandemic, they are not based on reality.

For politics is about power. Even if politicians openly declare a ceasefire, there will be manoeuvring behind the scenes. They will only cease if the country is facing a war or a war situation, as happened during the Indonesian Confrontation.

Indonesia was against the formation of Malaysia, especially of the Borneo states joining the federation. Indonesians infiltrated the Borneo states and Malaya and there were armed skirmishes in an undeclared war.

When this happened, even the opposition parties which were against the formation of Malaysia for various reasons, fully supported the government of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

We are not at war now. The fight against the coronavirus, although couched in the language of war, is not a war.

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay for a while, according to health experts. And we have all been urged by health authorities and our leaders to get used to the new normal.

Getting used to the new normal means doing whatever you were doing previously but within new parameters, in line with new ground realities. If it applies to you and me, why should it not apply to politicians?

What’s wrong if Anwar wants to see the King to show proof that he has the numbers to form the government? As long as the SOPs are followed, it should be fine.

In fact, if PAS president Hadi Awang wants to see the King to lay a claim to the position of prime minister, he should be allowed to, so long as the King is willing to see him and he follows the SOPs.

Anwar is simply making another move in our very own protracted version of Game of Thrones which began when Mahathir’s manoeuvrings helped bring down his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and elevate Najib Razak.

Then, when Najib showed he was his own man and would not listen to Mahathir, the latter plotted his downfall. He teamed up with arch rival Anwar and the party he hated most – the DAP – and succeeded in dethroning Najib in the May 9, 2018 general election.

He continued with his manipulations by keeping everyone guessing as to whether and when he would hand over the reins of power to Anwar, as he had promised prior to the general election, and keeping PKR in check while strengthening his party PPBM.

In the meantime, Anwar and his supporters became impatient, with some believing that Mahathir would never hand over power to their leader, and set in motion their own plans. Also, Anwar and his trusted ally Azmin Ali had a bitter parting of ways, with the latter dead against Anwar becoming prime minister.

On the other side, Umno and PAS teamed up to successfully play up issues to create fear among the rural Malay population that Malays and Islam were under threat from non-Malays, or at least the DAP.

Pakatan Harapan, being a disparate coalition of parties, began to show signs of fraying, especially over the question of Anwar’s ascension. As the internal jockeying grew, Muhyiddin Yassin and some others decided that PPBM should quit the Pakatan Harapan coalition and form the government by teaming up with Umno and PAS, which Mahathir opposed.

The second-time prime minister then played another game – he resigned as prime minister. He probably thought that everyone would come running to him and ask him to continue and that he could then run the country on his terms. But as it turned out, the Muhyiddin clique in PPBM decided to form the government without him.

The canny Mahathir was outplayed by Muhyiddin, who was then sworn in as the eighth prime minister of the nation.

And Anwar, who his supporters thought and many Malaysians were made to belief in 2018 would become the eighth prime minister, again lost his chance of heading the government.

But Muhyiddin knew his position was tenuous so he swiftly appointed 69 MPs or senators from PPBM, Umno, PAS and several other parties that backed him as ministers or deputy ministers. He also appointed politicians who supported him to GLCs, thus ensuring their continued backing.

In the meantime, a very hurt Mahathir and four other PPBM MPs who had been sacked by Muhyiddin formed a new party called Pejuang. They continue to work to bring down Muhyiddin’s government.

While, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muhyiddin was shoring up his support, Anwar was quietly working behind the scene to get enough MPs to back his bid for the prime ministership.

Now, he says, he has the numbers.

But that is no guarantee that he will be the next prime minister. For one, Muhyiddin will be doing his own deals with MPs and political parties to stay in power. And Azmin and his backers, who quit PKR and later joined PPBM, can be expected to do their best to thwart his plans as it would likely be the end of their political careers if Anwar becomes prime minister.

Some Umno MPs are likely backing Anwar in the hope that it will force Muhyiddin to advice the King to dissolve Parliament as they feel Umno can win big in the next general election.

PAS, meanwhile, can be expected to make deals with everyone except the DAP and Amanah in the hope of being a partner in the government – any government.

But no matter what games these political parties and their leaders play, unlike the TV Game of Thrones, we have a King who remains above politics and who will decide what happens under such circumstances as prevail today.

The King can do one of several things if Anwar shows him decisive proof: appoint Anwar as prime minister, after ascertaining with the MPs named if it is true they back Anwar; or he could direct that a confidence vote be held in Parliament; or he could dissolve Parliament if Muhyiddin advices that fresh elections be held.

Or he could maintain the status quo if he is not convinced that Anwar has the required majority to form a strong government.

But whatever decision the King makes, the Covid-19 pandemic will almost certainly be a factor.

Anwar is seeing the King on Tuesday but anything can happen between now and then. Also, it may be a few days before we have a clear answer as to what might happen.

Remember though that this is but the latest sequel in our Game of Thrones.