THE definition of trust is the firm belief in reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. It is the foundation of successful relations, both personal and professional.

Once it is broken, it will be very hard to repair trust.

One blunt question, asked twice during Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s interview with Bloomberg at the Asean Business Summit in Bangkok last Friday, has set tongues wagging over the much touted succession plan to hand over power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

While Dr Mahathir reaffirmed his promise to step down in favour of Anwar, he was curiously ambiguous when it came to the question of trust.

He appeared to be taken aback momentarily when the host, Haslinda Amin, asked him: “Do you trust Anwar Ibrahim?”

When he replied by saying: “It’s not a question of trust,” she asked once more: “Do you trust Anwar Ibrahim?”

Again, without answering directly, Dr Mahathir responded by saying that he made the promise to hand over the reins to Anwar, knowing that his affiliations with Anwar were not always good but he had made this promise and would stick to it.

Earlier, when queried if Anwar was ready to be PM, Dr Mahathir said it was not an issue of whether Anwar was ready or not but it was about the pledge, adding that he would keep his promise.

Dr Mahathir was also noncommittal when asked if this would be done in two years, saying: “Time is not very specific.”

When quizzed on his reluctance to put a timeframe, he said there might be something he needs to do before stepping down and cited the financial crisis in 1997 when he was on holiday then.

“Anwar was acting PM but because of the financial crisis I had to return, take over and handle the problem. So, if something like that happens, I need to stay on. But preferably, I will step down,” he replied.

But something serious is already happening to the Pakatan Harapan government. The rifts in the coalition are deepening in the wake of a sex scandal, especially within the ranks of PKR.

On June 11, a leaked gay sex video purportedly involving Economic Affairs Minister and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and another man were widely shared with the media and party ranks via WhatsApp messages.

Denying that he is one of the men in the videos, Azmin described it as a “nefarious plot” to end his political career.

But the next day, Santubong PKR Youth chief Haziq Abdullah Aziz confessed on Facebook that he was Azmin’s partner.

Police arrested Haziq, a lawyer, while he was about to board a flight to Manila two days later.

After being released on police bail, he has not only reiterated his statements but even challenged Azmin to sue him.

Notably, the sex scandal surfaced a week after the appointment of Latheefa Koya as the new chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, replacing Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, who had quit although his tenure was supposed to end next year.

Latheefa, who had been critical of Anwar, resigned as a PKR member and as executive director of Lawyers for Liberty to take up the post.

On his part, Anwar has denied any role in the circulation of the sex video, saying he did not view Azmin as a threat to the succession plan agreed upon by him and Dr Mahathir.

“There is already slander and it cannot be resolved by another slander,” he said on June 16 in his parliamentary constituency of Port Dickson.

Dr Mahathir dismissed the sex video as “fake” when they first surfaced and more recently suggested that certain quarters were making deliberate attempts to affect Azmin’s future, saying: “I don’t think he is so stupid as to do that and get caught like that. I think somebody is out to bring him down.”

It is a different set of players but it certainly looks like a repeat of the past.

In 1998, Dr Mahathir sacked the then deputy prime minister Anwar, who was later slapped with sodomy and corruption charges and jailed.

Surprisingly, they reconciled and formed an unimaginable pact between them before Pakatan Harapan’s shock victory in the 14th General Election.

It is no secret that PKR has been split into two clear camps since the acrimonious party elections last year, when Azmin won the coveted deputy president’s post by beating Anwar protégé Rafizi Ramli.

There has been much speculation that Dr Mahathir has been grooming Azmin for a bigger role in government, especially after the former Selangor Mentri Besar was picked to head a powerful new ministry that supervises government-linked companies and key government economic bodies.

Since his return to active politics after being pardoned by the King in May 16 last year, Anwar has consistently played down such rumours.

On Monday, he described the succession plan as “a done deal”. He said based on his weekly private meetings with Dr Mahathir, he had no doubts about it.

Others are not so sure, especially after Dr Mahathir’s conflicting statements on the timeframe, like the latest, for example.

In an interview with CNBC on the sidelines of the Asean summit last weekend, Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying that he would not “go beyond three years” as Prime Minister.

He was asked whether he would stay in office to see out his stated goal of reducing Malaysia’s debt from 80% of gross domestic product to 54%, a task which he had said would take three years.

But during a Hari Raya open house on Monday night, when asked by reporters why he said three years and not two as mentioned earlier, he said: “I did not say three years.

I said I needed a period to rectify things.”

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Greek philosopher Democritus: Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.