Zahid’s presence critical in Anwar’s unity Cabinet
It is an open secret that, left to their own devices, 10 BN MPs – which number incredulously includes representatives from MCA and MIC – were willing to pledge their support for PN’s Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister. The Anwar and Zahid alliance has prevented that.
Ibrahim M Ahmad, FMT
It took five days before the nation learnt who would be entrusted to form the next federal government, and it seems like a wait of five days or longer may be necessary before the composition of Malaysia’s first-ever unity Cabinet is made public.
Having won 82 seats, Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition boasts the biggest representation in the 15th Dewan Rakyat. Unfortunately, it is not enough to form a majority on the floor of the house.
He is only assured of a majority because of pledges of support from Barisan Nasional (BN), which contributes 30 seats, Sarawak’s GPS (23 seats), Sabah’s GRS (6), Warisan (3) and PKDM (1), Muda (1) and PBM (1), as well as two independents.
To lock in that support, his unity Cabinet must draw adequate representation from these coalitions and parties.
Within his own coalition, the tenth prime minister must also appease each of its component parties – DAP (40 seats), PKR (31), Amanah (8), Upko (2) and Muda (1) – by giving some of their members of parliament (MPs) seats in Cabinet.
On top of that, Anwar must strike a balance, not just in terms of numbers, but also in the allocation of portfolios.
That dynamic means that Anwar’s government will be brittle unless he can be assured of stability within those numbers.
Ultimately, that stability can only come from BN. Together, PH and BN give him 112 seats in the lower house, just enough to secure a simple majority.
However, Anwar cannot manage BN’s parliamentarians from the outside. He needs a solid ally within BN to perform that task.
Like it or not, that person is Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Zahid has been Anwar’s ally for the best part of the last thirty years.
In 1998, just prior to Anwar’s sacking as Umno deputy president and deputy prime minister, it was Zahid who stood up for him.
Zahid had no choice but to recant his support after then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed arrested and detained him for 11 days under the Internal Security Act 1960 and warned that his own political future was in jeopardy.
Despite that setback, both Anwar and Zahid have maintained a close friendship.
Their collaboration almost led to Anwar overthrowing Muhyiddin Yassin’s backdoor government in August 2020, only for Zahid to withdraw his support at the eleventh hour after bowing to internal pressure from within Umno.
Zahid came under more intense pressure recently after it was revealed that Anwar and he were keen for their respective coalitions to team up to form government. With exactly 112 seats between them, PH and BN would have formed the slimmest majority possible on the floor of the Dewan Rakyat.
While the support of the remaining partners in the unity government offer Anwar some breathing space, an underlying deal between PH and BN remains necessary as it will ensure that the government will always retain its majority.
That deal, however, is not something that can be taken for granted.
With so much resistance to Anwar coming from within Umno and BN, Zahid had to muster all of his powers as coalition chairman, party president and party whip to secure the full support of BN MPs for the formation of the unity government.
Not being their party or coalition leader, Anwar will likely still need to rely on Zahid to ensure that BN ministers abide by party discipline when voting, both in Cabinet and on the floor of the Dewan Rakyat.
At the end of the day, party discipline within BN can only be achieved if Zahid himself sits as a Cabinet minister.
That thought may be repulsive to many who assume that Zahid is tainted by corruption.
True, Zahid has two massive corruption cases before the courts. However, he has already been acquitted of the first by the Shah Alam High Court without his defence being called (although an appeal is pending).
The second case is ongoing in the Kuala Lumpur High Court and is expected to run for the better part of next year. It goes without saying that Zahid is innocent until proven guilty.
Both cases have been given wide media coverage.
In the first, Zahid faced 40 corruption charges involving the award of a contract to run a foreign visa system and a one-stop service centre in China.
The nature of the media coverage led many in the public to conclude that he was guilty as charged. As it turned out, that conclusion was premature.
Justice Yazid Mustafa’s 64-page judgment painted an entirely different picture from news reports published in the media. Zahid was acquitted of each and every charge without his defence being called after the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against him.
With that in mind, it would be premature for anyone to draw conclusions about the likely outcome of Zahid’s second case, which is still in progress. On that score, Anwar was correct to remind us of the time-honoured principle that Zahid is innocent until proven guilty.
Even if appointed, Zahid should not expect any reprieve from prosecution. The trial must continue, and he must still clear his name. However, unless and until convicted, Zahid ought to remain available for selection as a member of Anwar’s Cabinet.
In reality, Malaysia must thank Zahid for the significant role he played in paving the way for PH and BN to form the backbone of Anwar Ibrahim’s government.
Without his efforts, Malaysia may well have been staring at the prospect of a Perikatan Nasional (PN) government dominated by PAS, which won 49 of that coalition’s 73 seats in Parliament.
In fact, it is an open secret that, left to their own devices, 10 BN MPs – which number incredulously includes representatives from MCA and MIC – were willing to pledge their support for PN’s Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister.
The Anwar and Zahid alliance has prevented that, ensuring that Malaysia remains moderate at least for the immediate future.
The duo ought to be allowed to extend their collaboration to ensure that the new unity government starts its business of governing the country on sound footing.