Prime Minister for 6 Months?

Anwar is no longer in prison. There is no longer a need to create an unusual arrangement like Harapan did before the election: Mahathir to be PM7 for 2 years and hand over the baton to Anwar as PM8. The logic at that time was that a loose 2-year timeline would ensure that Anwar is out of Sungai Buloh as a prisoner of conscience.

In the stalemate on a prime minister candidate for PH+ now, it appears that there are a few options forward:

  1. Mahathir as PM8 and Anwar as DPM
  2. Mahathir as PM8 for “several months” and Anwar as DPM
  3. Anwar as PM and Mukhriz as DPM
  4. Shafie Apdal or a Sarawak-based party leader as PM

Out of these options, (b) appears to be the most likely outcome. Anwar has held out on option (a) because it puts him in a far worse position compared to pre-Sheraton – at least back then there was a 2-year agreement to hand over. Option (c) is also unlikely since Mahathir would not want to see Anwar as prime minister in his lifetime (deemed too “liberal” and unsuitable by Mahathir), and Mukhriz’s strength is still a ways to go. Option (d) would not receive the consensus from most component parties.

Therefore, option (b) would be most likely as Harapan would seek a reversal to the pre-Sheraton status quo. Harapan generally believes that they are a force of moral good, and getting back to power is an urgent necessity.

Before Muhyiddin’s coup, the revised timeline for the handover of the prime ministership was “after APEC” that is scheduled to be held in November this year. Of course, Harapan+ will definitely not agree to put this down to paper, and would once again impose a loose timeline of “several months roughly after APEC” for a handover to Anwar.

What this translates to is a Mahathir prime ministership of 6 months. This is a hazardous proposition.

Imposing an unprecedented level of instability

One of the common claims against a 2-year timeline or any call for Mahathir to hand over to Anwar was that it destabilises the government. Anwar’s oft-repeated statement was to “give space” to Mahathir to govern since assurance and stability was essential to govern well.

In other words, if it wasn’t for the unusual circumstance of Anwar being in prison before GE14, any imposition of a transition plan with a timeline is not good for anyone. What we have learned is that there is no such thing as a peaceful handover of prime ministership as most prime ministers would want to stay on as long as they can.

What has been revealed through the backdoor meetings of Harapan’s leaders was that leaders aligned to Mahathir had always wanted the nonagenarian to stay on as prime minister – even to the point of reneging the agreement to hand over to Anwar.


From the people’s perspective, continually changing premier is also scarring. Policies change, personnel reshuffle, and politics go on overdrive. Granted, the coup that changed our premier from Mahathir to Muhyiddin is not Harapan’s fault. But by inviting and necessitating a transition plan after 6 months, or worse “several months”, converts government into a farce.

A lame-duck prime minister in the making  

Mahathir once told Anwar that setting a timeline to hand over prime ministership will make him a lame-duck prime minister. I agree. A prime minister needs the confidence and respect of the Cabinet, civil service, and the people. If the people know that Mahathir will not be a prime minister for long, they will gather around his successor and only treat what he says with a caution of transience.

Therefore, imposing a timeline for a second time is untenable.

In fact, on a practical standpoint, no one could get much done in 6 months. Even an experienced prime minister like Mahathir could get little done in the 22 months he served as the seventh prime minister. He has often lamented that he does not have enough time to make the changes he wants.

What was destroyed by many governments before will take many years to repair. Mahathir knows this more than anyone. Imposing a much shorter timeline now – albeit much looser – will inevitably reduce the prime minister as a lame-duck prime minister.

The moral claim to the throne

Those who prefer Mahathir to return as prime minister for the third time often based their claims on two notions. One is that without Mahathir, Harapan would not have won GE14. Two, “strong influence” and “miracle” of Mahathir to negotiate the seats that Harapan is short of claiming a majority.


The first notion has been often repeated but never proven, empirically or otherwise. The broad idea was Mahathir was the key reason why Harapan won the people’s mandate in GE14 – without any proof of public opinion data compared to other vital reasons such as economic pessimism, GST, employment or cost of living. It also ignores the fact that Bersatu only won 13 seats, and only 25-30% of Malays voted for Harapan – casting doubt on Mahathir’s influence.

The second notion is even more problematic as it relies on the assumption that Mahathir does not require the rest of the component parties – chiefly, Anwar’s 39 seats from PKR – to get back into power. Mahathir’s reliance on Harapan’s 92 seats to form a government is greater than Harapan’s reliance on Mahathir’s additional 20 seats to form government.

Bearing this in mind, the question is whether there is any necessity for Mahathir to hold on to several months as prime minister before Harapan+ could enjoy a breath of fresh air again – where reforms are no longer an impossible dream.

In the absence of a strong moral, procedural, or political claim to the prime ministership, there is no reason why our country needs Mahathir to return for the third time.

After all, Mahathir only has 6 MPs on his side – a 2.7% legitimacy to stake a claim for equal and overriding partnership.

(Revised version published on Malaysiakini).

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