Has Anwar the numbers – or is it a bluff?

P. Ramakrishan surveys the jittery reactions in government ranks ahead of Anwar’s audience with the Agong on Tuesday.

P. Ramakrishan, Aliran

Anwar Ibrahim’s claim of having a “strong and formidable” majority to topple the Perikatan Nasional-led government has set tongues wagging. Attempts to play down this claim are very apparent in what is being said and how it is being said.

There are politicians who speak just for the sake of speaking. Not much thought or sense is reflected in what they say. Dr Mahathir Mohamad is no exception to this. We know he has no love or respect for Anwar but that does not mean Anwar should not be treated honestly.

Anwar had claimed on 23 September 2020 he had a “strong and formidable” majority. He would not have laid claim to this majority if he did not have such a majority to support his claim. He wouldn’t risk his reputation for any dubious claim. He knows what the repercussions would be.

But politicians, being politicians, have disputed this claim and have ridiculed him. We know when politicians are driven by fear of impending doom, the first thing they would do is deny and ridicule their adversaries. That sort of reaction would pacify them!

Unsurprisingly, Mahathir fired the first salvo. “We will have to wait to see if this is another episode of making claims that cannot be substantiated,” he was quoted as saying (The Edge, Singapore).

Recalling Anwar’s former claim in 2008, Mahathir noted Anwar had made a similar declaration in 2008 – which did not materialise. While that is true, he wasn’t telling the whole truth – that is the problem with politicians.

We know what happened in September 2008 and how Pakatan Rakyat was prevented from taking over Putrajaya on 16 September 2008 (a move known as 916).

To frustrate Anwar and deny the majority that he supposedly had, 49 Barisan Nasional MPs were packed off to Taiwan on some silly excuse to study some agricultural projects. That was how they foiled Anwar’s attempt to bring about a change in government by bringing down Abdullah Badawi’s government. The BN effectively removed those who were likely to support Anwar.

That was why Anwar could not produce the majority he claimed he had in Parliament. If these MPs had been present in Parliament and, in spite of that, if Anwar had not been successful in taking over the government, then he could be rightly ridiculed.

But that wasn’t the case. It was the fear of that possibility that, in desperation, the BN sent these 49 MPs out of the country, to keep them out of Anwar’s reach and save their own skin.

Not to be outdone by Mahathir, the Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin got into the picture, questioning Anwar’s claim of having a majority to form a new government.

“But until today I myself also do not know (the number); his claim may or may not be true,” Muhyiddin said, when speaking at a Perikatan Nasional rally in Tambun on 25 September 2020.

Well, Mr PM, we also did not know whether you really had majority support when you were sworn in as prime minister on 1 March 2020. Not only did we not know the number you claimed you had then, but to date we still don’t know who really supported you. That remains a ‘state secret’, guarded and protected from public scrutiny.

On 29 February 2020, Mahathir had laid claim to 114 MPs supporting him. It was alleged that you (Muhyiddin) also had 114 supporters backing you. But we have only 222 MPs in parliament – not 228! Mahathir had published the 114 names of MPs who allegedly supported him but you didn’t – which meant you only had 108 MPs behind you when you were sworn in.

Like a wolf pack, his ministers closed in lending support.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who tweeted just minutes after Anwar’s noon press conference on 23 September, said that the PN government was fine. “Just finished the cabinet meeting. Nothing is collapsing or falling,” he said.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Shamsul Anuar Nasarah said on his Facebook page: “Remember the Sept 16, 2008, event? This time, it is another speculation…”

PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin described Anwar’s claim as nothing more than a political gimmick. He said it was merely the Port Dickson MP’s “September dream” of becoming prime minister.

All these minions tried to be dismissive of Anwar’s claim and the threat posed by him. It’s natural to assure yourselves that nothing is going to happen when you are faced with imminent danger. There is comfort in deluding yourselves.

I am reminded of an Arab proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

But strangely, Umno president Zahid Hamidi said after Anwar’s 23 September press conference that he had received information that many Umno and BN members of Parliament had expressed support for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to form a new government.

“Umno and BN are not able to stop MPs supporting Anwar from meeting the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to make known his intention,” he said in a statement.

“I was told that many Umno and BN MPs have voiced their support (for Anwar). I respect their decision.”

It is a known fact that many MPs are not happy with Muhyiddin’s leadership. And Zahid Hamidi’s disclosure not only suggests but confirms that there may be many crossovers to Anwar’s side to make a change of government possible. With its razor-thin majority, the PN government is understandably jittery.

We will only know whether this so-claimed “strong and formidable” majority is fact or fiction on Tuesday after Anwar’s audience with the Agong. On Tuesday, Anwar’s fate will be sealed.

Many may wonder what will happen on Tuesday. If Anwar indeed possesses the so-claimed “strong and formidable” majority, the normal democratic convention would imply that Muhyiddin will have to step down as PM and Anwar will become the newly appointed PM – a dream come true at last!

Will this be the expected scenario? We will have to wait and see.

If Anwar indeed has a majority that is very close to two-thirds in Parliament, there is no reason to doubt that he will be the eighth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Unlike Muhyiddin’s shaky and jittery government, Anwar’s government will be a very stable one, which makes it easier to serve the nation without having to look over the shoulders for backstabbers.

A stable government will be a welcome change and will be in a position to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and address the economic woes of the nation. It will be mark the return of the Pakatan Harapan government, which was elected by Malaysians on 9 May 2018. This is what Malaysians want – the return of the government they voted for!

If for any reason, Anwar is not able to take the reins of government on Tuesday, all is not lost. Parliament is meeting on 2 November 2020. The PN government will be tabling Budget 2021 for adoption. If the Budget is defeated, then Muhyiddin’s government will surely fall. And nothing will stand in the way of Anwar becoming the Prime Minister.

This much-anticipated change of government will take place on Tuesday if all goes well. If not, Anwar will keep his date with destiny in November.

When he becomes PM, Anwar would have embodied the saying, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”