A discussion about a new book draws interesting perspectives on the much debated transfer of power from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. 

A DAY after Shahbudin Husin launched his book, Anwar PM Ke-8: Janji Serah Kuasa Yang Mesti Ditepati (Anwar The Eighth PM: A Promise To Transfer Power Which Must Be Fulfilled), I met the author to get some insight on this hot topic

When we met in a cafe in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on Thursday, I jokingly asked him, “Is your book nonfiction or fiction?” to check if he really believed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would be Prime Minister.

“It is nonfiction,” was the firm reply from the former journalist who has written seven books in Bahasa Malaysia on Malaysian politics.

Shahbudin said he wrote his latest book because, after Pakatan Harapan won GE14 last year, the country’s problem was the question when PKR president Anwar would become PM.

In January last year, Pakatan had made the promise that if the coalition won, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would be PM and Anwar would replace him later.

“After PH won, it was ding dong, ding dong. At first, before GE14, Dr Mahathir said the transfer of power would be in two years. After winning, he said maybe in two years, or more or less. And then at a press conference, with Anwar by his side, he said if Anwar gave permission, he would get two and half years. And later he said three years,” the author said.

With no fixed date set for the transfer of power, Shahbudin contends that Pakatan has a problem. He said that is why it is desirable for the Pakatan presidential council or Dr Mahathir himself to set a firm date.

Panellists who discussed the book: (from left) Kadir, Redzuan, former Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar, Shahbudin and Astro Awani’s Nazri Kahar. — Handout

Panellists who discussed the book: (from left) Kadir, Redzuan, former Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar, Shahbudin and Astro Awani’s Nazri Kahar. — Handout

“I don’t think Dr Mahathir has a problem with setting a date, as this is his second time as PM. Previously, he set a date when Pak Lah took over as PM. No problem,” he said, referring to Dr Mahathir setting the timetable for Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to replace him and become the fifth Prime Minister in 2003.

“The title of your book is ‘Anwar, the eighth PM’. Do you think it will really happen?” I asked.

“I am confident it will happen,” Shabudin replied.

“Firstly, this time Dr Mahathir is already old, he is not like before – he ghairah (was passionate) to be PM for a long time. Then he got to be PM for 22 years.

“This time, his intention was to get rid of Najib Razak and bring down BN,” he said, referring to sixth Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional.

“Secondly, this time Dr Mahathir doesn’t have any strong men.

“Now, he only has Tun Daim Zainuddin. In 1998 when he fought with Anwar, he had Megat Junid, Aziz Shamsuddin and Sanusi Junid. This time he can’t afford to fight.

“For his own good, he should follow his plan (to transfer power to Anwar),” Shabudin said.

During the Dr Mahathir versus Anwar fight in the late 1990s, among the PM’s loyalists and strategists were Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin, the late Tan Sri Megat Junid and the late Tan Sri Sanusi Junid. Back then, the outcome of the fight was that Anwar ended up in jail.

If indeed there will be a stable transfer of power and it is only about the date of the handover, why then in the last one year does it look like Anwar can’t be PM, especially with PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali seemingly in the way, I asked the author.

“This is mostly influenced by people surrounding Dr Mahathir who are afraid they will lose their privileges when he steps down,” Shabudin replied.

“But then why is there a pergolakan (struggle) in PKR, especially this week when it looks like the party is like retak menanti belah (a crack waiting to split)?” I asked.

“I’ve mentioned in my book that the perpecahan (split) in PKR is because of Dr Mahathir.

“Maybe because he has 13 (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) MPs, PKR has 50 MPs and DAP has 42 MPs, he feels he is not strong.

“To make himself stronger, he appointed Azmin as Economic Affairs Minister even though PKR did not nominate him, as he was Selangor Mentri Besar then,” Shabudin explained.

“Dr Mahathir made PKR shaky so that people will come to him. That is his style.

“But I don’t think he can last for two years. PH is different from BN. In BN, the PM determines who will replace him but in PH, the presidential council – which consists of DAP, PKR, Amanah and Bersatu leaders – decides who will be PM.

“I think Amanah might follow Dr Mahathir but PKR and DAP will follow Anwar.”

On what is Azmin’s gameplay, Shahbudin said the PKR deputy president indeed wants to be Prime Minister. But he did not think Azmin would get strong support from Pakatan.

“Between Anwar and Azmin, PH definitely will support Anwar and not Azmin,” he said.

Shahbudin speculated that Azmin could even be sacked from the party: “It will happen soon, Anwar will suspend him for his move to attack the party president,” he said, referring to Azmin telling Anwar to “look at the man in the mirror” after the PKR president said his deputy president should resign as Economic Affairs Minister if he’s conclusively identified as one of the two men in a recent viral sex video.

The author also does not think Azmin would become Deputy Prime Minister in the next few weeks around Hari Raya Haji, as rumour has it.

“Tidak. Gaduh lah. Mesti pecah PH (No. It will be a fight. PH will break). If Dr Mahathir appoints Azmin as DPM, PKR and DAP will pull out of PH,” he said.

Break it down in percentages, I said, for Anwar becoming PM.

“I feel more than 70%,” he said.

Azmin?

“Below 10%,” he replied.

How about a dark horse PM, I wondered.

“The most qualified is Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. But he is not healthy. I think there is no choice (but Anwar).

“Unless Dr Mahathir wants PH to be destroyed. There is talk that Dr Mahathir wants to join Umno. But Umno doesn’t want him,” he said.

On the day Anwar PM Ke-8 was launched at a restaurant in Shah Alam, a panel discussion of the book took place. One of the panellists, Prof Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman of Institut Darul Ehsan, revealed the findings of his think tank’s survey of 1,600 people in Peninsular Malaysia on who they preferred to succeed Dr Mahathir.

Redzuan said 45% were for Anwar, 16% for Muhyiddin, 11% for Azmin and 1% for Amanah president Mohamad Sabu.

The rest of the results were: 6% for Najib, 3% for Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, 2% for any Barisan candidate, 1% for DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, 1% for Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, 3% for “none qualified”, and 8% of the respondents did not want to answer the survey.

“It is clear that only Anwar can succeed Mahathir. Anyone else can dream of becoming PM but based on our survey, only Anwar is accepted by the people,” said Redzuan, who is a longtime friend of Anwar’s.

After Redzuan spoke, it was the turn of panellist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, who is special adviser on media and communication to the Prime Minister, to speak: “I see that 6% wants Najib to be back as PM. Shahbudin needs to rethink, as 6% wants Najib to be PM,” he pointed out.

Later, Redzuan defended his survey saying that it allowed the public to say whoever they wanted to support as the next Prime Minister: “For sure Najib still has his supporters. But 6% is still far from being a favourite. The majority feel that Anwar is qualified to be the eighth PM,” he said.

Redzuan also revealed that his survey found that 75% of Malaysians did not want Dr Mahathir to stay on as Prime Minister beyond two years. Of that group, 44% said Dr M could go within the next six months while 20% want him to go immediately.

Interestingly, a survey by the Merdeka Centre that was published yesterday found that Dr Mahathir’s approval rating had jumped seven percentage points. Its monthly study revealed that the Prime Minister’s popularity rose to 62% in June compared with 55% in May.

During the panel discussion, veteran newsman Kadir said he is confident that Dr Mahathir will hand over the premiership to Anwar. He also explained why he thinks there is no timetable for the transfer of power.

“Imagine if Dr Mahathir says that I am going to step down and hand over to Anwar on this date, the lobby for positions will be hebat (great). Maybe the surprise element is useful not only for Dr Mahathir but also for Pakatan,” he said.

He said, based on his understanding, Dr Mahathir will give up power to Anwar in two years or slightly more than two years.

If Kadir hasn’t misunderstood Dr Mahathir, Anwar will become Malaysia’s eighth Prime Minister at the latest by 2020.