Mahathir-Muhyiddin reunion could pressure Anwar’s coalition on race politics, say analysts
(MMO) – An alliance of former prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin could amplify their claims of championing Malay-Muslims ahead of six state elections, according to analysts.
This would increase the pressure on the parties in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s national unity government, which was already seen trying to appeal to Malay-Muslims following the swing towards religious conservatism during last year’s 15th general election.
According to Syaza Shukri, assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia Dr Mahathir, who lost his deposit after failing to defend his Langkawi seat in GE15, stood to gain the most if he could reconcile with Muhyiddin.
“He needs a partner and Muhyiddin is the best for him not just because of the Malay pact but also because they did form Bersatu together. We never really know the full story of Sheraton anyway, as in the actual fallout.
“It is a smart move because they can portray their pact as ‘more Islamic’ since they are basically talking about defending Malay rights, etcetera. The thing is, most Malays do not really understand the Madani concept, which is more on values.
“Most Malays want to “see” Islam in their leaders (the way they dress and speak). In fact I would argue they want to see Islam as special. The Madani concept is partly saying values are shared across religions, which is not an attractive idea to some Malays. Plus, with Pakatan Harapan (PH) working with Barisan Nasional (BN) which is tainted with corruption charges, I think Mahathir supporting PN would be a major challenge for the unity government,” she said when contacted.
Dr Mahathir formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia alongside Muhyiddin in 2016, with him as chairman and the latter as president.
The party had been part of PH that won the 14th general election in 2018, but abandoned the coalition as part of the Sheraton Move in 2020.
Dr Mahathir, whose resignation brought an end to the PH government, was replaced by Muhyiddin as the prime minister and expelled from Bersatu.
Dr Mahathir then formed Parti Pejuang Tanahair and the Gerakan Tanah Air coalition, but discarded them after their dismal performance in GE15.
When asked if Muhyiddin should accept Dr Mahathir, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said yes, as it would further increase the coalition’s rising appeal.
He felt Bersatu and PAS were already making strides with Malay-Muslim voters and the addition of Dr Mahathir’s support could make a crucial difference in close contests.
“The addition of Dr Mahathir is a plus, as it adds gravity to their massive green wave. If each constituency can garner an additional 100 votes, for example, then it’s a good thing,” he said.
“As for political alliances, that doesn’t matter as political alliances shift often nowadays, so his (Dr Mahathir) changing stances are also commonplace. The Sabah experience shows that voters often blindly support some politicians regardless of his hopping,” Oh said.
He also said Dr Mahathir should not be completely discounted due to losing his deposit in GE15.
However, Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) senior fellow Azmi Hassan said Dr Mahathir’s support for PN would not be significant.
“After the Sheraton Move the reality is Dr Mahathir realised he needed to take a step back, be more laid back and cooperate with his former foe Muhyiddin for the state elections. In terms of him attracting new Malay voters I would think it’s very minimal, impact-wise.
“He was rejected at GE15 and PN, with or without him, is capable of doing very well.”
Azmi also disagreed that recent incidents such as the seizure of Swatch’s Pride collection watches in the country over lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) elements had portrayed the national unity government as inattentive to Malay-Muslim sensitivities.
“Only a few people knew about the Pride watches and the Malay community won’t be fazed as much as we think. I feel the reason they paid attention to it was because they wanted to show the public that the Madani government is sensitive to Malay sentiments,” he told Malay Mail.
After losing in GE15, Dr Mahathir developed his “Malay Proclamation”, his purported initiative to unite the Malay community by addressing 12 key problems they face and bridging the group’s political differences, despite his leading role in at least four Malay political parties so far.
Earlier this week, Dr Mahathir he would be willing to work again with Muhyiddin, whom he previously he previously accused of betraying him during the Sheraton Move, if they could agree on common goals.
Muhyiddin later reciprocated, saying he would welcome Dr Mahathir back as a partner for the good of Malay-Muslims.