A few months ago, in November last year, tfipost.com wrote a political analysis arguing Malaysian Prime Minister, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, could lose chair amid pressure from his friend turned foe turned friend- Anwar Ibrahim, whom he promised PM chair after ruling for one to two years when Pakatan Harapan coalition won the 2018 Malaysian election under his leadership. Now, the Malaysian leader has submitted his resignation as Prime Minister, to the Malaysian king.
Mahathir Mohamad shocked India with a shift in Malaysian diplomacy when he toed the Pakistani line on Kashmir at the UNGA. Then on he steered Malaysia closer towards Pakistan and Turkey, and deeper into Islamic radicalism. He also made statements on India’s CAA which again irked India and was taken as an interference in India’s internal affairs.
In retaliation, New Delhi restricted palm oil imports from Malaysia which delivered a massive blow to the two countries’ trade relations, while Mahathir received backlash domestically for the same.
It is being speculated that 94-year-old Mahathir is trying to build a new coalition as ruling Pakatan Harapan wants him to vacate the chair and install Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister.
Mahathir’s party, the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu), which has 25 seats in Dewan Rakyat- the low house of the Malaysian parliament, equivalent to India’s Lok Sabha- out of 222 has dropped from the ruling coalition. Now the ruling coalition is short of a majority with 92 seats against 112 seats required for a majority government.
Mahathir’s journey with Ibrahim
Anwar Ibrahim, who was the de-facto successor of Mahathir, has enjoyed a precarious relationship with the 94-year-old leader. He was a good friend and Mr Mahathir’s deputy prime minister and heir apparent in 1998 when he was arrested on the charges of sodomy and corruption by the police. He was arrested and publicly beaten by country’s police chief, put behind bars, and sidelined from electoral politics for more than a decade.
Since Ibrahim came out of jail, he has been a mature version of his previous self. Given the fact Mahathir stood from Anwar’s party for election, he has a better bargaining ground. Also, Mahathir does not enjoy the same rapport with the people of the country as he used to in the late 1990s, when he put Anwar behind the bars. At that time, he was 74 years old and therefore- has the legitimacy to remain on PM’s chair for another few years. But now, 94-year-old Mahathir could not go before the people with the same aura and legitimacy.
Mahathir’s political Journey
The oldest head of state in the world has a firm grip on Malaysian politics since the early 1980s; he ruled the country with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003. He vacated the chair in 2003 for his chosen heir- Abdullah Ahmad Badwi but soon started criticizing his policies. He helped Najib Razak to come to power in 2009 but became critical of his policies too in 2015.
In early 2016, Mahathir quit United Malays National Organization (UNMO) and started a campaign against corruption in Rajak’s government. UNMO party has ruled Malaysia since the 1950s and no one expected that Mahathir will have anything to contribute to the country’s politics after he left the party. But, in January 2018, the opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, announced Mahathir as the Pakatan Harapan coalition candidate for prime minister for the 2018 general election.
Riding on resentment against the corrupt regime of Rajak, Mahathir registered an unexpected victory and became prime minister of Malaysia in May 2018. At the time Ibrahim announced Mahathir as prime ministerial candidate, the 94-year-old leader promised to hand over the chair to Anwar in “one or two years”, if the campaign is successful.
Malaysia’s PM Mahathir Mohammad could lose his PM chair
It was anticipated that given the better positioning of Anwar Ibrahim, he could attempt to dethrone Mahathir at any time. This would also complete his revenge with Mahathir for backstabbing in 1998. As Mahathir is older, weaker, and relatively unpopular version of previous self and Anwar is mature, firm, and stronger version of his previous self, the latter is expected to be winner this time. But Mahathir has made the first move by resigning in order to build a new coalition; now it will be interesting to see who succeeds this time, given the fact Mahathir has already defeated Anwar Ibrahim many times in political strategy and shrewdness.