Will Zahid drag Anwar down?

Dennis Ignatius

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Zahid Hamidi don’t seem to share the same priorities. Anwar is constantly emphasizing good governance, accountability and the importance of political stability. Zahid, on the other hand, seems to be pursuing an agenda that has more to do with his own ambitions than the success of the unity government.

The latest sign of this dissonance was the abrupt change of chief minister in Melaka a few days ago. The Melaka state government was stable and doing reasonably well. Zahid, however, was not content. Obsessed with strengthening his grip on the party and putting his own men in key positions, Zahid quietly sanctioned a backdoor move against the chief minister. It was all about power and ambition, nothing more. To cover up the power play, the new chief minister is talking about forming a “unity” exco; as if that couldn’t have been accomplished under the previous chief minister.

It may be recalled that Zahid was behind a similar move in Sabah when his henchman there tried to orchestrate the overthrow of the state government. Though the plan failed when local assemblymen refused to go along with it, the plotting continues.

What does it say about Zahid’s priorities when he continues to undermine the political stability that his boss the prime minister is working so hard to consolidate? Make no mistake, Zahid’s power plays are rubbing a lot of UMNO members the wrong way and could backfire against both UMNO and the unity government.

It is not the only example of Zahid and UMNO working at cross purposes with the overall thrust of Anwar’s unity government. The ridiculous vendetta against former attorney-general Tommy Thomas by UMNO’s Azalina Othman Said (minister for Law and Institutional Reform) is another jarring note. With all the pressing challenges facing the government, why go after a Pakatan Harapan appointee who did his job with courage, integrity and professionalism? It makes no sense except to feed the fake UMNO narrative that its leaders were unfairly persecuted by Thomas.

And then there are all those crony appointments by Zahid which fly smack in the face of the prime minister’s commitment to good governance. Haven’t we had enough of UMNO political appointees who ended up stealing public funds and mismanaging the agencies they were appointed to? Why the need to bring back politicians who were such a big part of the culture of corruption and abuse of power that has done so much damage to our nation?

Anthony Loke (DAP) and others might jump through hoops to justify Zahid’s appalling appointments but the people are not so easily fooled. All they see are conniving and unprincipled politicians who can’t be trusted to honour their promises and live up to their own ideals.

Of course, Anwar needs Zahid and UMNO to maintain a stable majority in parliament. To keep Zahid onside, the prime minister might feel he has to allow Zahid a free hand and give him some free passes too including the suspicious decision by ROS to help Zahid avoid an internal leadership challenge and the surprising move by the AGC not to object to Zahid’s request for the return of his passport. But sooner or later, it is going to affect the credibility of the Anwar administration.

Certainly, it is going to be very embarrassing when Zahid, with his freshly regained diplomatic passport, makes his first foray abroad as one of the faces of the Anwar administration. What message will it convey to the world when the deputy prime minister of a government that is supposedly committed to good governance and fighting corruption is himself facing multiple charges of corruption, money laundering and abuse of power?