Fear of Anwar driving PAS, Umno to support Mahathir

Very interesting. Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali wants Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to complete his term in office, and he is even thanking opposition parties PAS and Umno for rooting for Mahathir.

Azmin said yesterday that Mahathir’s leadership was still needed to ensure “stability, continuity and consistency” in the effort to attract investors, create jobs and make the “shared prosperity” concept a reality.

The PKR deputy president has spoken like a true politician, but we all know why he wants Mahathir to continue until the 15th general election. It has everything to do with the fallout with his president Anwar Ibrahim, the designated prime minister-in-waiting, and the widening split in PKR. Surely Azmin hasn’t forgotten the deal for Anwar to take over from Mahathir?

It goes to prove, yet again, that politics is a strange animal, and allegiances can change as swiftly as a cheetah sprints.

Azmin’s reason is clear. I’m more interested in the reason for PAS and Umno backing Mahathir.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang told voters in May 2018 that they would be placing the nation in jeopardy if they were to vote for, and enable, Mahathir to win and lead the country again. Last week, Hadi changed his tune and said this very man should continue to lead Malaysia until the next general election.

At another place, also in May 2018, Hadi asked voters: “Why choose Mahathir as prime minister when he had already ruled for 22 years and was the cause of a lot of grief for the people?”

People, especially Muslims, would lose if Mahathir became prime minister, Hadi had said, because Mahathir did not “put Islam in a place of importance in his party’s struggle”.

Then, again in May 2018, during the 14th general election (GE14) campaign, Hadi called on Langkawi voters to give “old” Mahathir “a rest” and not vote him into office.

Now, all of a sudden, Mahathir, at 94, is no longer old. Now, all of a sudden, the country will not be in jeopardy if he continues to remain prime minister for another three-and-a half years or so.

On July 27, Hadi said: “PAS and Umno take the same stand that we will defend the premiership of Mahathir until the next general election. “ Saying Mahathir’s PPBM only won 13 seats in GE14 and was, therefore, not strong, he added that they were throwing their support for him because they expected a clash in PH for the premiership, alluding to Anwar who is waiting in the wings.

Mind you, this backing comes despite Mahathir previously labelling Hadi “kafir” (infidel) and calling him a village ustad, and despite knowing that Mahathir is dead set against PAS and its politics. Mahathir has often roasted PAS for “being the cause” of Malay disunity.

In Jan 2018, after a ruckus at a PH convention when about 40 PPBM members objected to the coalition’s distribution of seats for GE14, Hadi asked: “How will he (Mahathir) be able to lead the country when he can’t even solve his party’s internal crises?”

In April 2018, Hadi had accused Mahathir of bullying PAS during his previous 22-year-term as prime minister.

Suddenly, Hadi wants the “bully” to continue leading the nation, and, therefore, devise and implement policies that will have an impact on PAS and himself too.

In case you are thinking this shows Hadi is inconsistent, let me disabuse you of that notion. Hadi has been consistent – he was consistently against Mahathir before May 9, 2018 and consistently supportive after May 9, or more accurately, after June 2018.

If you remember, it was in June, after Mahathir had become prime minister for a second time, that Hadi and a few of his party lieutenants called on Mahathir. No one really knows what they discussed, but I would guess that Muslim dominance and Anwar’s name would have popped up.

Shortly after that meeting, Hadi described Mahathir as a “nicer” man who was “more mature”.

In March this year, he actually defended Mahathir. Following an interview given by Nurul Izzah Anwar to The Straits Times where she had described Mahathir as a “former dictator”, Hadi declared that Mahathir was no dictator and that he was merely being assertive. Assertiveness, Hadi asserted, was required in leadership.

So, why the change?

In May 2018, after Anwar was released from prison following receipt of a full pardon from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Hadi had said that the transfer of power from Mahathir to Anwar should be implemented according to proper procedure. He added: “We hope for a smooth transition but the important thing is that Islam must dominate as the majority of Malaysians are Muslims.”

Again, why the change?

The obvious reason is that PAS and Umno want to further create distrust between Mahathir and Anwar, for a warring PH is good for the opposition.

It’s possible they want Mahathir to stay on until the next general election as it might be easier to scalp PH when it is transitioning then when Anwar has already begun spreading his tentacles.

PAS and Umno, like all political parties, want power and they obviously feel a warring PH could help them win enough seats to form the next government.

But beyond that, I think PAS and Umno are motivated by fear of a Malaysia under Anwar.

Having battled Mahathir for decades, PAS knows what to expect. It knows that Mahathir isn’t keen on conservative Islam and is pragmatic, if not liberal, in his interpretation of Islam. PAS has, in the past, attacked Mahathir as being a stumbling block to the implementation of more Islamic practices such as hudud. It can, therefore, use this argument to garner support from conservative Muslims.

Anwar, on the other hand, progressed in politics on the wave of Islamic resurgence in the late 1970s and 1980s. The young Islamic activist and Abim leader was courted by PAS, and just when everyone thought Anwar would join PAS, he took up Mahathir’s offer and joined Umno.

He brought along a whole bunch of young Muslims who wanted to champion Islam. They wanted to change the character of the nation by introducing more Islam into all facets of national life, including finance. And they did – with Anwar at the forefront, supported by Mahathir.

Today, PAS claims to be the only legitimate representative of the Muslims. With Anwar as prime minister, there could well be a dilution of its conservative base, with some PAS supporters leaning towards Anwar.

If Hadi can recite verses from the Quran to enthrall his listeners, so can Anwar. To top it off, Anwar can quote Western philosophers, and, when needed, Confucius and Tamil poet-sage Thiruvalluvar, too. In fact, when it comes to oratory, Anwar is a charmer and knows the right keys to strike – whatever the makeup of his audience.

There could also be another fear playing in the minds of Hadi and PAS and Umno and their support groups.

They sense that Anwar has changed. The man is seriously talking about giving equality to all Malaysians. He is talking about steering Malaysia away from race-based policies towards needs-based policies. They probably fear that Malays will not enjoy the benefits they are getting now, even though Anwar has said the constitutional rights of the Malays would always be protected.

What if he actually does this after becoming prime minister? It is a risk that PAS and Umno may not want to take. Whatever their dislike for Mahathir, PAS and Umno leaders know that it was Mahathir who had declared Malaysia an Islamic state. And they know Mahathir has always pursued policies that put Malays first.

Also, Anwar is close to DAP, whereas Mahathir has probably accepted DAP as part of the government for the sake of expediency. What if DAP plays a larger role in governance if Anwar becomes prime minister? We know DAP is anathema to the leaderships of both PAS and Umno.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.