Should Dr M be made a mentor minister?

Some analysts say Mahathir’s successor would benefit from his influence and inexperienced members of the cabinet might need his guidance.

PETALING JAYA: Two economists have suggested that Dr Mahathir Mohamad become a mentor minister once he leaves the prime minister’s post, saying an announcement of such a plan may allay the concerns of the business community.

Yeah Kim Leng of Sunway University said Mahathir’s successor would benefit from his influence and Adli Amirullah of the Insitute for Democracy and Economic Affairs said some inexperienced members of the cabinet might need his guidance.

Under an agreement endorsed by the parties making up Pakatan Harapan, Mahathir is to hand over the reins to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim at an unspecified date, but some factions in the ruling coalition have since called for the date to be set.

Yeah said the uncertainty over the transition was unsettling the business community. He noted that some economic organisations had cited this factor in giving Malaysia poor risk assessments.

He also said some members of the business community were taking a wait-and-see attitude before making major business and investment decisions.

“Given Tun Mahathir’s unrivalled experience and huge influence, the idea of his becoming a mentor minister is worth considering if a well-defined, win-win advisory role can be created with support from all quarters of PH,” he told FMT.

“Specifically, he would be able to help his successor galvanise public support for the more difficult reforms the country needs to undertake to realise the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.”

Adli described the idea as “theoretically” good.

He alleged that some inexperienced ministers were still struggling with their jobs. A mentor minister could show them the ropes in managing their jobs as well as in handling the media, he added.

However, he said, the government needed to do more than give Mahathir the new job in order to recover business confidence.

“It is much more crucial for the government to have a united voice when coming to a policy decision,” he added.

Political analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff acknowledged the appeal of the idea but said Mahathir’s personality might make it unviable.

He said Mahathir was known as someone who would hold strongly to his own opinions, especially on economic, social and educational matters, and Anwar might want to pursue initiatives that differ significantly from his predecessor’s desires.

“I do not see how Tun Mahathir can function as a senior minister or as mentor minister when his advice or views are not in line with the new administration’s policies,” he said.

Kamarul also said Anwar’s cabinet would likely be composed of those who oppose Mahathir and it would therefore be difficult for him to accommodate Mahathir.

Another analyst, Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, noted that the late Lee Kuan Yew was a minister mentor for the Singapore government from 2004 to 2011 .

He said Lee failed to inject any substantial influence on Singapore’s cabinet or its premier in terms of direction.

Going by Singapore’s experience, he added, there was not much a minister mentor could do except to dispense advice which the prime minister could either accept or reject.

“And for Malaysia, having two powerful individuals at the top will spell trouble in the long run.”

Oh Ei Sun, a fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the idea would be impractical.

He said the crux of the matter is not that Mahathir doesn’t want to step down, but he does not want Anwar to ever succeed him.

Until this is solved, no resolution of the leadership dilemma is visible,” he added.