Has Malaysian democracy champion Anwar Ibrahim swapped his idealism for a last-ditch chance at power?
Lists of names doing the rounds of Malaysian political circles this week suggest the 73-year-old opposition leader — who claimed this week to have the numbers to topple the government — has teamed with a faction of corruption-tainted cronies from the ruling coalition.
Among them is said to be Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, president of the United Malays National Organisation party who faces more than 70 graft charges and is a key ally of former prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib was convicted in July of seven corruption charges related to the $US4.5bn 1MDB state development fund misappropriation scandal, and faces trial on another 35.
Zahid was quick to back up Anwar’s claims on Wednesday to command a “strong formidable majority” of MPs with a statement confirming “many” UMNO MPs had defected from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s shaky coalition, which has governed since March with a one-seat majority.
Anwar’s own commitment this week to lead a government that upholds the primacy of Malay Muslims — a population long favoured with special privileges not afforded Malaysia’s ethnic minorities — suggests he has already ditched his allegiance to multi-racial equality.
Yet his apparent about-face has elicited little surprise among politics-weary Malaysians.
“This is his last throw of the dice. Anwar must know that, so it’s whatever it takes,” says Kean Wong, a Malaysian analyst and author whose book Rebirth — on the historic 2018 election win of the Anwar/Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan coalition — was banned in Malaysia this year.
“The key will be the composition of his numbers — who is in and who is out.”
Anwar’s latest tilt at power comes seven months after a mass defection of MPs forced the collapse of the Mahathir-led administration and paved the way for Muhyiddin — Mahathir’s former party deputy — to form government with the recently ousted UMNO and its Islamist ally, PAS.
Senior members of the now fragmented Pakatan Harapan coalition, which holds 91 seats of the 222 seat parliament, say Anwar has promised not to include “tainted” MPs in any new government. But just who his new supporters are remains a mystery.
Mahathir has already confirmed his breakaway party is not among Anwar’s newly enlarged support base, and on Thursday said it was a “certainty” that any UMNO MPs who pledged support for Anwar would be loyal to Najib and Zahid — who was a former top aide to Anwar when he was UMNO youth chairman and then deputy PM in the late 1990s.
“If the wishes of their two leaders (Najib and Zahid) are not fulfilled, then the MPs will do what they did to Muhyiddin, which is to withdraw their support and bring down the (new) government,” he said.
Anwar has refused to divulge names until he has seen King Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who called in sick for their scheduled meeting on Tuesday. Late on Friday the palace said the king would not be granting any audiences for a week on the advice of doctors.
Many have speculated that the king is waiting for the results of this weekend’s critical Sabah state election, tipped to be a bellwether of support for the Muhyiddin government.
Muhyiddin has flagged the possibility of early polls if his government wins this weekend.
Ong Kian Ming, a Pakatan Harapan MP with the ethnic-Chinese majority Democratic Action Party, told the Weekend Australian the best-case scenario would be a loss for the Muhyiddin coalition that encouraged more MPs to defect to Anwar.
“Things will be clearer after the Sabah elections. There is no perfect time for Anwar to make his move but the statements from Zahid and the palace show that the Muhyiddin government has already lost its majority,” he said.
Should Anwar eventually secure a royal audience, and prove he has the numbers to govern, it will be the culmination of a decades-long struggle in which the former Islamic firebrand has reinvented himself numerous times, and served two jail terms on politically motivated sodomy charges.
But if Muhyiddin gets there first, Anwar could find his political ambitions foiled once again.
Source : The Australian