A major realignment of Malaysia’s political landscape, which could thrust PAS into federal power, may be in store following a dip in support for the 20-month old Pakatan Harapan government, FMT has learnt.
The new alignment, bringing together forces aligned to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad with the clout that PAS holds in the northern Malay heartland, will have dire consequences for DAP and Anwar Ibrahim.
“Effectively, it is a show of brilliant political chess by Mahathir to thwart internal bickering in Pakatan Harapan and poor public perception of his government,” a source familiar with the wheeling and dealing in Putrajaya told FMT.
This comes amid expectations that ministers and deputy ministers would give up their posts voluntarily, following the resignation of Maszlee Malik as education minister on Jan 2.
An informant who spoke to FMT has named at least one more minister from Mahathir’s party PPBM who will announce his resignation.
It is believed that the minister heads one of three ministries which were given red marks by Mahathir for poor performance.
Party leaders had been privately talking about the likelihood of a Cabinet reshuffle after the Chinese New Year, rumours of which had sparked great anxiety among ministers.
But one ruling MP told FMT that Warisan’s defeat in the Kimanis by-election last Saturday will likely push the prime minister to accelerate a revamp in the Cabinet.
Any Cabinet reshuffle would be the first in the post-BN era.
“Many ministers spent the last few weeks of 2019 burning the midnight oil with their graphic designers to prepare glossy ministerial report cards listing their achievements since assuming office in 2018,” said the MP.
“The ministers had no choice but to put on record that they have done their best in the hope they would be spared by Mahathir.”
But all eyes are on the possible re-emergence of PAS, especially in the likelihood of the Islamist party being given a federal role for the first time in four decades, according to sources.
The new alignment of Mahathir’s PPBM and PAS is likely to be the death knell of DAP’s hopes of being part of the PH government, but more decisively, it will thwart the ambitions of Anwar, the PKR president to become prime minister.
PAS has been a valuable ally for Anwar, whose support allowed him to survive the turbulent times since he fell out with Mahathir in 1998.
The new Mahathir-PAS alignment now removes a swathe of the Malay-Muslim support that is vital for his claim on the premiership.
“It is now a distant dream,” says FMT’s source.
PAS left the Barisan Nasional unity government in 1977, and has over the decades cleverly generated support in the Malay heartlands as it fell victim to Mahathir’s policies during his earlier tenure in power.
Nevertheless, the Islamist party declared staunch support for Mahathir as prime minister of the PH government, pledging its backing for him to remain for the full term (2018-2023) in the face of an understanding for Anwar to take over before the next general election.
The party’s re-emergence as a federal force will be a knockout blow for DAP, which has been the strongest critic of the party’s Islamist policies even while they were partners in the former Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
The conflict between DAP’s secular position and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s Islamic policies led to the break-up of Pakatan Rakyat in 2015, and the emergence of Parti Amanah Negara, formed by a splinter group of a PAS “progressive” faction, led by Mohamad Sabu, which was seen to be allied with DAP.
But the fallout from the new alignment will have less impact on Amanah, political observers said. The two parties share “the same DNA”, and their leaders, Mat Sabu and Hadi, “see eye-to-eye on many Islamic issues except on domestic politics,” the observer said.
Speculation about the new alignment was triggered by meetings between Hadi and his former trusted aide, now Terengganu Menteri Besar, Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar.
In the same week, photos were also splashed on Hadi’s Facebook page, showing a delegation of senior PAS leaders led by him in audience with the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, on Jan 8.
A staunch loyalist of the prime minister also arranged for Hadi to meet with Mahathir, FMT has learned.
Hadi is believed to have stationed himself in Kuala Lumpur for several weeks for discussions with fellow party leaders, as well as to allay fears in his newfound ally Umno about his talks with Mahathir.
“He went back to Terengganu only for his weekly Rusila lecture,” a source said, referring to the pre-dawn religious talk Hadi has given for decades in his Marang constituency.
Hadi and Samsuri’s inner circles were tight-lipped when informed that FMT had details of his talks with Mahathir.
Samsuri’s political secretary, Muhyiddin Abd Rashid, would not comment. “You have to ask Dr Sam himself,” he said.
Others said they were not aware of any moves, or “not yet” at least, according to PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan.
He sees a PAS alliance with Mahathir in a positive light.
“It’s not a problem if it benefits the people and the country. But so far, the closed-door discussions were not related to any political alliance,” he told FMT.
He said PAS had been open in its support for Mahathir remaining in power for the full term.
“That has been our president’s stand from day one,” he added. “In whatever situation, our party and president will support the current prime minister, to the extent that if there were to be a no-confidence vote, we will support Dr Mahathir till the end of the term.”
Old enemies coming together
An alliance between PAS and Mahathir would be as unprecedented as him joining forces with another old political enemy, DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, to form PH in 2017.
Mahathir has been a key target of PAS for his opposition to the party’s ambitions for an Islamic state. Mahathir had never failed to attack Hadi in the past.
Mahathir had a history of clamping down on the party leadership.
When Hadi became Terengganu menteri besar after PAS won state power in the 1999 elections, Mahathir quickly moved to turn off federal oil royalties, a lifeline for the state government. Instead, “goodwill payments” were made, disbursed through Umno-linked village committee chiefs.
The feeling was mutual and in the run-up to the 2018 general election, Hadi spurned Mahathir’s olive branch to PAS.
“Mahathir’s preparedness in meeting Hadi whenever he comes a-calling in Putrajaya is thus a new chapter in their relationship,” says someone who once worked closely with the PAS leader.
Politically, the rapprochement between the two leaders is understandable, he added.
“They both know what each can offer.”
For Mahathir, it is an acknowledgment of PAS’s control over the strategic bloc of Malay votes in the northern Malay heartland.
The party won 18 parliamentary seats and 90 state seats in 2018, despite having snubbed PH at the height of its national popularity.
The party wrested Terengganu from BN, complementing its “flagship” state of Kelantan, and gained ground in Kedah and Pahang.
Tallying the numbers
Although Mahathir heads the Pakatan Harapan coalition, it is PKR and DAP who control the bulk of the 129 seats held by the coalition in Parliament.
Mahathir’s PPBM holds only 26 seats, while PKR has 50 seats, the DAP 42, and Amanah 11. Ten more seats are held by PH allies in Sabah: Warisan (9) and Upko (1).
With PAS’s 18 seats, a Mahathir-PAS alliance would command 44 seats, or 55 if Amanah sides with them.
This has yet to take into account closet Mahathir loyalists in the other two opposition blocks, BN (41 including 38 from Umno) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (18).
Additional reporting by Minderjeet Kaur, Robin Augustin and Raja Faiz Zainuddin.
Source : FMT