By: Cogito Ergo Sum

That Malaysia is at a crossroads is a no brainer. But the big question is who will lead this once prosperous, full of potential and promise nation out of a self-made quagmire after six decades of excess, corruption and debauchery at almost every level of governance after current Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad steps down.

Let’s be clear on one thing. It will be Dr Mahathir who determines his successor.

While many diehard optimists point to a vague promise that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be the next Prime Minister after a reasonable time, that scenario is fast fading.

When he retired from the top office on 31 October 2003, he left behind huge monuments that testify to his legacy, including a badly bruised judiciary and a political minefield for anyone who dared to undo the mess or change the course he had set.

His successor, Abdullah Ahamd Badawi paid the price of listening to his ill-advised sycophant inner circle. Najib Razak, the next person to helm the nation, committed the ultimate crime. The son of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister had the audacity of going after Dr Mahathir family by subjecting Tun Dr Siti Hasmah to an undignified interrogation by the authorities. An unpardonable crime in not just in Dr Mahathir’s books, but in the nation’s view, a crime against the ‘people’s mother figure.”

Describing Najib’s reign as a disaster would be putting it mildly. He left nothing for the next administration or generation to work with. It was a scorched earth policy, ransacking the cupboard, leaving only him as the as the only saviour that could save Malaysia from the ills he created.

It would have worked but for one thing.

Dr Mahathir.

He led a motley crew of political parties which had nothing in common, united as a loose coalition only in their common goal of unseating Umno/BN and punishing Najib.

And now that is a done deal, what next?

Keeping that coalition going and ensuring Malaysia gets back on its feet may seem the logical step forward. Superficially, Dr Mahathir seems to have cobbled together a Cabinet from members of the Harapan parties, ensuring that everyone gets some form of representation.

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It is now slightly more than a year since the Harapan government has run the country. Reforms and promises are slow in coming as the new administration grapples with empty coffers and a civil service that is not just hostile but still operating as if nothing has changed.

The rumblings from an anxious nation are now more than just audible. The results of an opinion survey released last week by the Selangor government think tank Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) did not have any good news for Dr Mahathir.

Seventy-five percent of respondents believed that he should not stay on as prime minister past two years. Some 44 percent said he should leave within six months.

Of course such surveys will not detract him or even bother him. Its just water off a duck’s back.

In reality, he has a tight grip on Harapan. PKR, Anwar Ibrahim’s party that has the largest number of reps at 50, is now fractured, split right in the middle after the recent sex video expose involving its party deputy Azmin Ali.

The DAP, the next largest, has 42. But it has ministers, with the key finance portfolio held by party Secretary General Lim Guan Eng.

For this plumb position, the DAP is not expected to rock the boat for Dr Mahathir. His word is the law.

While he was seen a White Knight before the last General Elections in 2018, Dr Mahathir seems to be one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Recent appointments to key government positions were unilateral decisions made by him. The current Inspector General of Police, Hamid Bador, was plucked out of obscurity and promoted.

The new MACC Chief, Latheefa Koya’s appointment did not go through the scrutiny of a Parliamentary Select Committee. Dr Mahathir apparently announced it without any consultation either at the Cabinet level or at the Harapan presidential council.

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Dr Mahathir spoke, and his word became a reality.

This move has observers, as well as party insiders, worried if Dr Mahathir has devolved to his old self of being dictatorial once again.

The world’s oldest prime minister has really only one agenda. It is to ensure that his legacy is well preserved and that his family is left unmolested.

The Deep State that has been bandied around as the main resistance to Harapan’s governance, may actually be a movement against Dr Mahathir and not the coalition per se.

He may choose to ignore the results of the latest IDE poll, but Dr Mahathir has to contend with the fact that the results indicate that his popularity among the young Malay vote bank is fast dwindling.

Even that does not worry him with his minions dismissing the findings as an aberration in survey methodology.

But Dr Mahathir is acutely aware that time is not on his side. He has to set into motion a series of moves that will guarantee that his successor will be someone who ensures that his legacy is left intact.

And that is his self-made dilemma. His is a hard act to follow. He has only has old and trusted confidante, Daim Zainuddin to fall back on.

In this choice of a successor, Malaysia seems to be in a zugzwang – a position in chess where a player is forced to make a move that would result in a severe disadvantage to himself.

Azmin Ali, the Economics Affairs Minister, was apparently high in the selection list. But the latest video scandal has somewhat dented his chances.

What Dr Mahathir needs is someone who will ensure that what he has done over the years will not be dismantled overnight. That someone must also ensure that his family will be allowed to prosper economically and politically without being harassed.

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Of course the obvious choice of Anwar Ibrahim fades with each passing day and scandal. Today, PKR, Anwar’s party is so fractured, it cannot even conduct free and fair party polls with some accusation or other popping up.

Anwar is powerless to do anything sensible to stop the rot. He owes so much to so many while he was incarcerated. His immediate family and friends seem to be the heirs apparent to his political empire that it is hard see anyone else running the party without another minor aberration threatening to further split an already fractured entity.

Like everyone else, Dr Mahathir is drumming his fingers and watching as PKR implodes, leaving it with deep fissures.

One must also remember that Dr Mahathir never forgets his friends or his enemies. Friends, who stuck by him during his dark days when he was sacked from Umno in 1969, were rewarded and appreciated by him.

Enemies he has plenty. Many have gone into political oblivion, never to return after having faced his wrath.

For Dr Mahathir, politics is like a hospital – a treatment centre for the sick. In his book, no one is beyond a cure. And, this includes those involved in the most shameful of scandals.

Azmin Ali, despite being implicated in the gay sex video, has still Dr Mahathir’s support if not full confidence.

Azmin was conspicuous by his absence at the recent PKR leadership meeting in Anwar’s constituency of Port Dickson.

Essentially, Azmin seems to be the anointed one to lead Malaysia after Dr Mahathir.

It seems it is the only choice that the dice has dealt the world’s oldest prime minister and political chess grandmaster.

The writer is an observer of local and Malaysian politics. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Independent Singapore.