Anwar's premiership on the line as State Polls draw nearer

23 May 2023 02:11pm
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the Unity Government National Convention on May 14 at the World Trade Centre, (Photo by BERNAMA)
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the Unity Government National Convention on May 14 at the World Trade Centre, (Photo by BERNAMA)

SURREAL was an understatement, this procession of Pakatan Harapan government leaders and coalition stalwarts, standing shoulder-to-shoulder on stage – with infernal foe Umno at the latter’s, of all places, cavernous lair, Dewan Merdeka.

If the cortege had been a painting, Salvador Dali could have inspired the bizarre surrealism and had it been a satirical cartoon, no cartoonist other than Zunar could have sketched this “abstract” mural.

But it was on live TV and social media: the surrealism of ideologically dissenting and long-time adversaries – all had been vicious targets of Umno’s derision, commingling inside the once ruling party’s headquarters.

Leaders of DAP especially, as eternally demonised bogeyman, nervously stood out: had they been inside the hall prior to November, 2022, they would have been shredded, such was Umno’s loathing of the DAP. To be fair, the feeling was mutual.

The latest stunner? Umno and DAP have implored each other’s supporters to vote for their respective nemesis. Hard to say if the calls would be affirmed at the coming state elections.

But no one, NO ONE, could upstage the surrealism that is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

There was one time, in the early 2010s, when Anwar was deigned to make a “creepy” cameo inside Dewan Merdeka during a general assembly, his enormous mugshot flashed like Big Brother on the giant video screen at the stage’s backdrop.

The party president then, in winding up debate, cued Anwar’s close-up as a prop to slam opposition menace to his 1Malaysia “transformasi” policies and programmes.

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Rewind to 1998 at the height of the Asian economic crisis: Anwar was a breath away from assuming the Umno presidency and premiership, but he wasn’t exactly refined and circumspect in the succession process.

Despite being anointed as heir apparent, Anwar had been critical of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s handling of the economic crisis, particularly the snubbing of IMF aid to reinvigorate the spiralling Malaysian economy.

Once convinced of Anwar’s insolvency, Dr Mahathir struck and within 24 hours on Sept 2, 1998, Anwar was unceremoniously fired, first as deputy prime minister in late afternoon and as Umno deputy president deep in the night after a tempestuous party supreme council meeting, where he hopelessly defended himself.

Hours later, a resentful mob of Anwar supporters assembled at the main lobby of Menara Datuk Onn, waiting impatiently for Dr Mahathir’s departure.

As he neared the entrance doors, the mob unleashed their fury, hurtling mineral water bottles – some still unopened – towards Dr Mahathir, who was 20 metres away.

Accompanying Dr Mahathir was his strident loyalist Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, “taking a bullet” for the Umno president: in her baju kurung, she spread her girth, eyes bulging and arms flailing, deflecting a few bottles while the premier’s bodyguards quickly ushered him into his car.

The mob’s chants and screams were ugly patois.

Soon after, Anwar’s firebrand street demonstration and “reformasi” nous flared, prior to his inevitable arrest but he forever realigned and redefined Malaysian history and politics aside from the constant pain in Umno’s collective consciousness.

That was then: 25 years after that Sept 2 infamy, Anwar re-entered Dewan Merdeka to a standing ovation after he earnestly asserted that his administration is sound and his unity government intact, despite manoeuvres, or at least incessant chatter, to oust him via a backdoor coup simmered for weeks.

Anwar’s nemeses sensed an opportunity: they think the surrealism will grate Umno members into a hissy fit, enough to abandon the party but Umno’s comfort in hosting the convention suggest that they can weather internal blowback to the DAP s historic presence.

Umno members may squirm at sight of the DAP leaders but they would be grudgingly compelled to understand that this convention is not a mind meld but a pragmatic, if not strategic, soiree.

Still, the signal was clear. Despite being capped at its Federal knees, Umno needed to facilitate Anwar’s electoral pledges and programmes, winning strategic Cabinet postings and concessions.

But three issues will test Anwar’s mettle:

FIRST, Umno’s unconscionable campaign to seek a pardon for their imprisoned ex-president over a sensational corruption conviction.

It’s the proverbial elephant in the room: practically everyone on stage have made the conscientious call to reject Umno’s insistence to file for a pardon.

It’s a dilemma: to reject Umno’s overtures may sink the administration’s buoyancy but to back the pardon will be a point of no safe return.

SECOND, counterbalancing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s disingenuous Malay Proclamation initiative to “rescue” Malay rights he claims were subverted by the Anwar Administration.

The “richness” in Dr Mahathir’s petition was acknowledged but Anwar knows that it’s still a coded effort to force him out, possibly sooner than later, after Anwar divulged tantalising hints of Dr Mahathir’s source of family wealth, leading to a defamation lawsuit.

Anwar also allowed last week the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to begin an official probe against two unidentified but well-known Umno-linked corporate tycoons for allegedly misappropriating billions to buy shares.

THIRD, Perikatan Nasional has made it its mission to return to power as a matter of life and death, fearful that Anwar is beginning to make good his pledges to root out and penalise the corrupt.

These three premises will act as pivots in the six state elections due by July.

Arrestingly, Umno-BN will pit itself against PH candidates for state seats, which opens up this bipolarity: allies and collaborators in the Federal Government but dog-eat-dog rivals in the state polls.

Unless of course if PH and Umno-BN negotiate a “truce” to field “Unity” candidates, which, in its complications, may be counter-productive and spectacularly backfire.

Obviously, there’s inadequate seats to go around for everyone’s mad dash to be candidates.

Potentially, every state, except for three dominated by Pas, can end up as “hung” assemblies, turning opportunistic candidates into kingmakers and with that, newfound power and bartering influence.

In walking simultaneously on eggshells and a minefield, Anwar’s realises that if PH performs badly or their outcome exposes an Achilles heel, this unity government may be doomed.

Given this epoch’s all-too-brief nature of PM’s tenure, Anwar risks notching another farcical premiership statistic or, given his advanced age, forced to call it a day, dragging the nation into yet another perilous political funk.

Azmi Anshar is a retired newspaper editor and award-winning commentator, who also likes to indulge in books, music, movies and his grandkids.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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