It isn’t easy to fathom the twists and turns of politics in Malaysia. In the midst of a high-voltage political drama, the country was plunged in confusion on Monday with the political contours far from clear. The King has accepted Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation, but has asked him to continue as interim head of government.
On closer reflection, the country has been a victim of inhouse conspiracies. Suffice it to register that the development has led to the collapse of the ruling alliance and has thus engendered a state of suspended animation in governance. It is a measure of the inbuilt political fragility that the crisis stems from the attempt by Mahathir’s supporters to form a new coalition, preventing the appointment of his agreed successor, Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir had promised Anwar that he would succeed him as Prime Minister when the two rivals had partnered in an unlikely alliance that won power less than two years ago.
Anwar was previously jailed over sodomy allegations under Mahathir’s rule, indeed a set of charges that were widely criticised as politically motivated. On Monday, he said the Prime Minister had told him “he played no part” in attempts to form a new government. There is speculation in Kuala Lumpur that Mahathir was behind the drive to form a new coalition, and that he may have resigned in an attempt to reinstate himself in a more powerful position.
Others suggest he is likely to have been aware of the discussions being held by those in his party. Regardless of his involvement in the ongoing political theatre, it is generally agreed that he has reaped huge gains from the rather unexpected episode. At the moment, Mahathir wields the maximum power ever since May 2018 because he is no longer as dependent on other parties. It is hard not to wonder whether the resignation is a stage-managed ploy by the wily 94-year-old to remain at the helm of Malaysia.
He may yet form a new government with those who have urged him to stay with the ruling alliance, Pakatan Harapan. The political games that were played out on Monday were unlikely to impress the public, which seeks governance. There is concern too over what a new government might mean for minorities. The non-Malays, notably the Chinese and Indians, may not readily be agreeable to a stronger Malay-centric government with a decidedly Islamic outlook.
The Chinese and Indians constitute 30 per cent of the country’s population. The political turmoil comes at a time when Malaysia’s economy grapples with the threat of coronavirus, and in the midst of trials relating to the 1MDB scandal, the world’s largest kleptocracy case or more accurately a “tale of Malaysia’s missing billions”.