Politics and Policy: Finding the right time

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 20, 2020 - January 26, 2020.

Photo by Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge

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AS I am writing this, the date for the next Pakatan Harapan (PH) presidential council meeting has not been set, according to insiders.

There is all-round interest in this particular meeting — for good reason. It was fuelled by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said recently that he was prepared to step down immediately if asked to do so by the council.

“As far as I’m concerned, if you want me to go now, I will go now,” he was reported to have told the media in response to calls that he hand over power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in May. That would be two years to the date when he took over as prime minister for a second time after PH won GE14.

Incidentally, a day earlier, several backbenchers, noticeably from PKR, as well as academic Prof Dr Tajuddin Rosdi had taken part in a forum entitled “Should Malaysia wait until November for transition?” The title was a reference to Mahathir’s remarks that he would not step down before the Apec Summit in Kuala Lumpur that has been scheduled for November.

The forum organisers, however, insisted that the discourse was merely to get people to talk about an issue of utmost importance to the nation.

But following Mahathir’s recent statement, the big question now is whether the matter will be discussed by the council at its next meeting and, more importantly, whether a time frame or date will be decided.

Several DAP leaders certainly think so, or hope to see that happen. One of them is Klang MP Charles Santiago, who wants the council to set a clear date for the prime minister to step down, saying that “since Mahathir has openly said he will abide by the council’s decision, they must politely accept his offer of resignation”.

But DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng looks at it differently. He has dismissed the need for a PH presidential council meeting to discuss the transition of power at this juncture, noting that the prime minister had previously said he would relinquish the post after the Apec summit.

As Lim sees it, Mahathir’s remark means that “if the presidential council is not satisfied with his performance, the council can decide on whether he should resign or withdraw”.

However, a PH insider tells me, “Tun Mahathir has returned the ball to the presidential council. Just discuss as soon as possible whether it is May or November 2020, but the date must be agreed upon and announced soon to placate the rakyat, including businesses, investors and civil servants.”

Kelantan DAP chairman Datuk Zaid Ibrahim wants the council to meet fast. He, too, says the ball is now in the presidential council’s court but it has not responded to Mahathir’s statement.

“This statement is a clear indication that the prime minister is an honourable man. He will not overstay even a single day if not wanted by his coalition just as he will not take an extra mouthful when he is nearly satiated,” he says, referring to the 94-year-old Mahathir’s advice on leading a healthy lifestyle.

The transition has been talked about over and over again and the media has been accused of pitting Mahathir and Anwar against each other, highlighting remarks and statements, even from low-ranking branch leaders.

Recently, a Bersatu branch leader was quoted as saying that forcing Mahathir to quit would see PH lose the 15th general election as his party would react. As a member of the media, I would say that there is nothing wrong in reporting the statements of branch or grassroots leaders. A person’s standing in society should not be used as a criteria for media coverage. In this case, what the branch leader said has been stated by other Bersatu leaders previously.

But the point here is that nobody is talking about forcing the prime minister out.

Yes, former PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli did say that if Mahathir does not commit to a timeline for the transition of power to Anwar by early next year, a retirement date may be “imposed on him”.

But despite that, Rafizi is also on record as saying he does not believe any party would make a bold attempt to force a succession this year as politicians instinctively do not want to rock the boat.

Anwar himself has repeatedly said Mahathir must be given space and that the transition date should be a subject of harmonious discussion between the both of them.

To say the rakyat is restless is perhaps an understatement. Nobody likes uncertainty. I would say the majority would like to know when it will happen. What is more important is that when it happens, it must be a smooth transition.  


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