Mar 02, 2020 / 16:35

Mahathir and the ultimate game of power

The Hanoitimes - Mahathir Mohamad’s fatal mistake was his overconfidence of being able to keep power.

Almost two years ago, Malaysia witnessed until then the most interesting power seizing game when the 92-year-old former head of government Mahathir Mohamad allied with his former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to overthrow the then Prime Minister Najib Razak and became the oldest premier in the world. Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim won the parliamentary election and Mahathir pledged to transfer power to Anwar Ibrahim two years later.

 Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends the East Asia Summit in Bangkok in November 2019. (Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

But now, when that moment came, Mahathir Mohamad didn't hand over the power to Anwar Ibrahim. He resigned instead. By doing so, he avoided transferring power to his former lieutenant and played the game of power in Malaysia from the beginning again. He freed himself from the dependence on the alliance with Anwar Ibrahim's Coalition of Hope and tried to form another political bloc that is strong enough to be able to form a new government with him as prime minister and without the support of Anwar Ibrahim. The Coalition of Hope nominated Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate for prime minister. But the Malaysian king appointed former Interior Minister Muhyiddun Yassin to be the new leader of Malaysia's government.

While Mahathir Mohamad stated: "I've been betrayed, mostly by Muhyiddun",  Anwar Ibrahim also claimed to be betrayed, but not by Muhyiddun but by Mohamad Mahathir. Both started one after the other the power game, but this time both lost. The winner of this game is the man who hasn't been initiating the game and doesn't play any role in it.

Mahathir Mohamad’s fatal mistake was his overconfidence of being able to keep power. He stepped down to finish the power game he already won and to start a new one which he was sure that he would emerge again as a victor. His misfortune was that the Malaysian king didn't team up with Mahathir but play his own game. With the installation of Huhyiddun Yassin to head the Malaysian government, the king freed the country’s politics from the power struggle between Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir Mohamad’s power calculations were very sophisticated. But this time, he fell short of luck or underestimated the weightiness of political and social changes in Malaysia since he came back to power.

The power struggle among political parties and fractions in Malaysia will not end with the swearing-in of the new prime minister. It will go on. It will not be easy for the new prime minister to find and maintain the necessary majority in the parliament in order to govern. This country, therefore, faces risks of political and social instability and uncertainty ahead.