Bilahari: A strengthened Mahathir will press S’pore on old bilateral issues

What developments in Malaysia mean for Singaporeans.

Belmont Lay | February 26, 01:19 am


Now that some of the dust has settled a bit in Malaysia, it is time for Singaporeans with an appetite for politicking to catch up and take stock of what is happening up north.

Free Malaysia Today has reported some fresh takes on the political manoeuvering the past few days that culminated in Mahathir Mohamad’s dramatic resignation as prime minister and subsequent appointment as interim PM — an act of consolidation of power that many failed to see when it was first set in motion.

FMT reported three illuminating claims.

1. That the original plan of shifting political loyalties to form a backdoor government was indeed for Anwar to be blocked from becoming PM,

2. the Democratic Action Party was to be ousted in the coup,

3. and most shocking for some, that the entire ploy was known to Mahathir, despite claims from many factions that the 94-year-old’s hands are clean.

The implication is that Mahathir knew and even allowed it to happen.

FMT wrote:

It was apparent that the meetings on Sunday were aimed at removing DAP from federal power, while blocking PKR president Anwar Ibrahim from succeeding Mahathir.

A source told FMT that Mahathir initially had given his blessing for such a political realignment as a way of putting out growing infightings in PH as well as pressures on him to transfer power to Anwar.

On hindsight, with some time to sieve through the known facts, it is apparent that Mahathir probably did know about this coup, because the odds that he simply didn’t are too low.

Consider this: The Umno faction consorting with many others from different parties to usurp power was made known publicly since at least Feb. 12, and the likelihood for dozens of people to have been involved in such activities for weeks on end to go unnoticed by Mahathir — who has no doubt proven that he has people willing to pledge allegiance to him at the drop of a hat — is simply untenable a proposition.


What it means for Singaporeans?

For many Singaporeans who are following the developments across the Causeway but do not want to get sucked wholesale into it or feel overwhelmed by the minutiae of details, there two posts by Bilahari Kausikan, retired diplomat and former permanent secretary at Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, that you need to read.

They are a crash course on what is happening in Malaysia and what Mahathir coming out unscathed with consolidated power entails:


All lining up to kiss the ring and beg for favour or forgiveness.

There is some confusion about who started what on Friday. But that is irrelevant now.

Dr M has clearly come out strengthened.

He resigned but the Agong immediately appointed him interim PM. The AG as promptly pronounced that there is no time limit for the interim PM.

Since PH is dissolved, the promise to hand-over to Anwar after APEC is also null and void and M does not even have to pretend to honour it.

The old PH cabinet is non-existent and he can appoint anyone he wants to the new cabinet from any party.

The DAP and Amanah have pledged allegiance to him. UMNO and PAS have also called upon M to remain PM. M resigned as Chairman of Bersatu but the party refused to accept his resignation.

M is probably the only politician in the world whom both members of the former ruling coalition and the former opposition have implored to remain PM.

Some people have raised doubts about whether M’s 130 seats are firm but as Anwar certainly cannot get as many, that is only a theoretical doubt. Clearly UMNO and PAS will not work with Anwar and Azmin has taken away a fair number of Keadilan seats with him.

East Malaysia will go with whoever can hand out goodies and guess who holds the purse-strings? That would be the interim PM.

Gotta hand it to the old boy.

But once the dust settles, a strengthened M will begin to press us on water, the bridge and a host of time-wasting old bilateral issues.

As I said yesterday, full circle and a waste of time.

This was the earlier post by Bilahari, who was letting Singaporeans know what he thought was happening — succinctly, if not, bluntly:

This is what I have to say about what’s going on up north;

(a) It is an utter waste of time;

(b) The outcome — if and when there is one — will probably make no substantive difference;

(c) It may all go full circle; and

(d) It will not be good for Singapore.

I am now going to have a drink.

After drinks: The Agong has accepted Dr M’s resignation and appointed him interim PM. You really cannot make this sort of thing up!

Further after word: Bersatu rejects Dr M’s resignation as its Chairman and the AG says there is no time limit to an interim PM. Full circle!

Bilahari currently chairs the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

For a more thorough analysis of Mahathir’s superior politicking skills, you can refer to this, which was making the rounds in Malaysia:

‘Mahathir killed 3 birds with 1 stone’: Analysis of failed coup making rounds online in M’sia

About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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