Understanding Mahathir’s ‘okay’ to electing Muhyiddin as PM

Muhyiddin Yassin and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were deputy prime ministers under the Najib administration.

KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks yesterday saying he is “okay” if Muhyiddin Yassin gets support to form the next government were made against a backdrop of the veteran leader’s strong opposition to efforts to bring in a key Umno personality who has been mired with corruption allegations.

A source who has strong ties with rival factions within PPBM said Mahathir is “extremely not happy” with speculation that Muhyiddin wants to make Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as the deputy prime minister.

“This is why Mahathir delivered his usual sarcasm yesterday that Muhyiddin is good with everyone,” the source told FMT.

Yesterday, Mahathir confirmed that Muhyiddin, who is the PPBM president, was the name nominated by the party as prime minister, as the former Pakatan Harapan coalition partner sought new allies to return to power.

“My position is I will not accept Umno, but I will accept those who leave Umno. But Muhyiddin is ready to accept them,” Mahathir had said.

Both Muhyiddin and Zahid were part of the Najib Razak administration.

Following Muhyiddin’s fallout with Najib at the height of the 1MDB saga in 2015, Zahid was appointed as deputy prime minister.

Zahid was seen as among the most vocal critics of Mahathir in the run-up to the 14th general election which saw the fall of the Barisan Nasional government.

In June 2017, Zahid brought up Mahathir’s Indian ancestry, accusing the veteran leader of pretending to champion the Malay agenda by using the Malays and Umno.

Following Umno’s fall from power, Zahid was made its president.

He is currently facing multiple charges of corruption involving millions of ringgit of funds from Yayasan Akalbudi, his charity foundation.

But does Mahathir, at 94, have the energy and willpower to stop attempts to include former Umno leaders such as Zahid in a new government?

“Willpower, yes, but not energy. He may have to depend on long-time loyalists and men with influence who are in sync with him,” said a source.

That could perhaps explain why three former top civil servants were outside Istana Negara this morning, as Malay rulers met to find a solution to the political imbroglio.

The three – former inspector-generals of police Haniff Omar and Musa Hassan, and former Dewan Negara president Abu Zahar Ujang – were allowed into the palace compound to deliver a memorandum, whose contents were not revealed to the media.

But a reliable source said they had spelt out “specific criteria” which they hoped the rulers would demand from a future prime minister.

Among them is that anyone with any record of corruption in the last three decades be excluded from a future Cabinet.

“The phrase used, though I’m not sure if this is in the memorandum, is that ‘all discredited controversial MPs with baggages of depravity’ be excluded from a future Cabinet,” a source told FMT.

“The group is also urging for ministers to be appointed from among those with a good record of ministerial experience, especially in the finance ministry.”

It was earlier reported that Mahathir had disagreed with Muhyiddin for including several Umno MPs facing corruption charges in a proposed future government.

That disagreement led him to resign as prime minister as well as the chairman of PPBM, a move which drew praise from DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

Lim had said Mahathir acted based on principles to thwart a “nefarious attempt to subvert and undermine the people’s mandate”.

On Wednesday, Mahathir confirmed the speculation behind his resignation, saying he did not want Umno to be part of the government.

He said he was worried that Umno would dwarf others in a future coalition with PPBM and PAS.

“The government would be dominated by Umno as the biggest party.

“I was willing to accept Umno members who left Umno and joined other parties. However, Umno would have joined the government in its capacity as a party. This is unacceptable. Thus, I was forced to resign,” Mahathir said in a special speech aired on RTM.