Can Dr M's U-turn come up trumps?

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir speaking at a press conference with members of the opposition party in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. The next few months will be fun to watch, says the writer - DAP and PKR leaders doing the tango with their foe-turned-friend as they take on Prime Minister Najib.


    Mar 07, 2016

    Can Dr M's U-turn come up trumps?

    THE impossible has happened - Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim are on the same page again.

    Anwar, who is serving time in prison, sent word of support for Dr Mahathir's effort to work with the opposition parties against Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

    The mentor and mentee who turned archenemies are now allies with a common cause.

    The past few days have shown that nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible in politics, especially when it comes to Dr Mahathir.

    For more than a year, the former premier told everyone he wanted to remove Mr Najib in order to strengthen Umno and for Barisan Nasional to win the next general election.

    On Monday, he quit Umno to join forces with the opposition parties against the Prime Minister.

    There is no other way of looking at it than that he is preparing to pull down Umno in order to defeat Mr Najib.

    U-turns are common in politics but this one is exceptional.

    Dr Mahathir's ganging up with the opposition has had very mixed response - scepticism and disbelief, praise and derision, support and rejection, amusement and disgust.

    All in all, people are resigned to his ways.

    They have watched him exert his will over all and sundry during his 22 years in power and the general opinion is that Dr Mahathir is just being himself.

    He believes what he wants to believe and he will do as he likes.

    "Quitting Umno a second time, that I can accept. But he is now working with the other side to destroy us.

    "That is crossing the line," said Negeri Sembilan chief minister Mohamad Hasan.

    Crossing the line is a pretty mild way of putting it, because the average Umno person sees it as an act of betrayal.

    The opposition parties have not been exactly rapturous either. Despite Anwar's note of support, Pakatan Harapan politicians feel conflicted about Dr Mahathir.

    For them, he had epitomised all that was wrong with Umno and the country and now they are allies.

    They are in a dilemma and they are unsure whether they can ride this old tiger without being mauled.

    Dr Mahathir brings with him star power but he also comes with too much history and baggage.

    For instance, among those by his side the day he resigned from Umno was Khairuddin Hassan, the man behind the notorious book that flagged off Anwar's downfall.

    Dr Mahathir was once the most reviled man in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and sentiments in the party have run from outright rejection to born-again affection.

    In between are those who are demanding that Dr Mahathir agree to a set of conditions before the party cooperates with him.

    There are also the sceptics who are questioning whether he is trying to split the opposition or help them.

    Basically, Dr Mahathir is suffering from a trust deficit among the opposition.

    They are not sure whether they can believe him given the way he has backstabbed his own party.

    "We have some reservations but this is a golden opportunity to find the silver bullet and we'll take what we can," said Democratic Action Party's (DAP's) Jelutong MP, Jeff Ooi.

    Pakatan Harapan leaders also held a hasty press conference on Thursday to clarify reports about its cooperation with Dr Mahathir.

    From the remarks by its chief secretary, Saifuddin Abdullah, it looks like the coalition is still on a wait-and-see stance.

    When pressed on whether the coalition would cooperate with Dr Mahathir, Mr Saifuddin had smiled one of those smiles that speaks a thousand words.

    Eventually, he said that if there are one or two leaders from Pakatan Harapan doing it in their personal capacity, it was out of their own initiative.

    But Friday's event to unveil the declaration to oust Mr Najib seems to suggest that there are more than just a few Pakatan Harapan leaders involved.

    Almost all the key leaders, including two from Parti Islam SeMalaysia, were there.

    The notable absence was PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is said to be less than keen about Dr Mahathir.

    Nevertheless, Dr Mahathir has managed to draw together what he described as a "strange group" of people.

    It makes one wonder whether he will do a deal with the devil if that will get Mr Najib to step down.

    The Star's online journalist stuck in the cramped space aptly noted that the room felt suffocating, not only because of the faulty air conditioning but also because of the big egos present.

    For instance, during the press conference, one of them gave a pompous "speech" by way of answering a question.

    DAP's Lim Kit Siang, true to form, answered questions as though he was speaking at a ceramah (lecture).

    Some of these people, until a few days ago, would not have even wanted to be seen in each other's company but are now joined by the common aim of unseating Mr Najib.

    The sight of Mr Lim and former MCA president Ling Liong Sik sitting side by side was quite priceless.

    Two senior citizens, one still hungry for power, the other thirsting for revenge.

    Many of those present looked awkward.

    It was like they were both thrilled and embarrassed to be with Dr Mahathir.

    They know that some of their supporters will lambast them as opportunists but they have their eye on Putrajaya and that is what matters.

    Perhaps the only person who looked truly comfortable beside Dr Mahathir was PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, who was still in the traditional Malay outfit that he usually wears on Fridays.

    Everyone could see that the centre of gravity had shifted to him with the latest development.

    The Selangor chief minister's standing has solidified over the past one year.

    He has carried himself well compared to his counterparts in Penang and Kelantan, where one has shown himself to be quarrelsome while the other is too low profile.

    Mr Azmin is well-placed as the front runner candidate for prime minister.

    Or, as some put it, he is Dr Mahathir's "chosen one".

    Now that could be either a wonderful or terrifying spot to be in, given Dr Mahathir's habit of anointing and destroying prime ministers.

    Apart from Muhyiddin Yassin, Mukhriz Mahathir and Sanusi Junid, it was a predominantly opposition line-up.

    The good old doctor has given Pakatan Harapan a much needed shot in the arm.

    No one seems more eager than Mr Lim to have Dr Mahathir onboard.

    The partnership can help DAP repair its anti-Islam and anti-Malay image and enable his son, Guan Eng, to hold on to Penang with another big majority in the next general election.

    The next few months will be fun to watch - DAP and PKR leaders doing the tango and singing love songs with their nemesis-turned-BFF.

    It will be even more interesting than watching Donald Trump try to become the next United States president.

    Friday's event shows that politics is full of opportunists and that politicians who say one thing today and do another thing tomorrow are to be found on both sides of the divide.

    The declaration unveiled contains many lofty aims to bring Malaysia to a first-world democracy.

    The irony is many of the 37 demands stated in the document would have been shredded had they been presented to Dr Mahathir during his time as premier.

    Moreover, the event raised more questions than answers.

    He side-stepped so many of the thorny questions that he came across as evasive, unconvincing and even insincere.

    But these are still early days.

    None of those in the "strange group" can quite predict what lies ahead.

    They are unsure whether they have found the silver bullet or if a leopard can indeed change its spots.

    Time to take out the popcorn and soft drinks again.