PETALING JAYA: The first 45 minutes of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) meeting during its final week in power in February saw ministers and party leaders openly clashing with each other over the question of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as prime minister.
A two-hour recording of the Feb 21 Presidential Council meeting which has been making the rounds revealed two factions, one insisting on a clear timeline for Mahathir to step down for PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, and the other saying that talks about the transition of power had undermined the coalition’s credibility.
Two leaders were among the most vocal in opposing any move to limit Mahathir’s tenure.
They were PPBM Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali, who both warned Mahathir that he would be a “lame-duck prime minister” if he agreed to a timeline.
Mahathir had said that he would step down after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Kuala Lumpur in November.
But during the meeting, Azmin said Apec leaders would not give any weight to someone whom they knew would be stepping down once the summit was over.
He warned Mahathir that any timeline of his departure would be bad for investors.
“You will be reduced as a lame-duck prime minister. Are we prepared to accept a lame-duck prime minister?
“Not only investors will have no confidence, civil servants will not move,” said Azmin.
When contacted, several leaders who attended the meeting independently verified the audio.
The meeting was held just a day before the nation was thrown into political crisis, when Azmin and PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin held meetings with rival party leaders including from Umno at a hotel in Petaling Jaya.
Following days of uncertainty which also saw Mahathir resigning, Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister on March 1 after getting support from most of his PPBM MPs, as well as those from Umno, PAS, GPS and a dozen PKR MPs aligned with Azmin.
But during the meeting some 10 days earlier, Amanah’s Khalid Samad who was then federal territories minister was banking on May 9, 2020 to prepare Anwar to take up the top post.
Khalid said Anwar should be brought into the Cabinet on that day, the second anniversary of PH’s electoral victory.
“Otherwise, people will speculate. You are out there, you are scheming, you are grinning, you are not together.
“The 9th of May is the perfect time for Anwar to come in,” Khalid told Mahathir at the meeting.
He also urged Anwar to discuss the matter with his wife, then-deputy prime minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
“Discuss with your wife whether you want to be the deputy prime minister, the education minister, the finance minister… but you have to be in Cabinet.”
Khalid’s view reflected that of Anwar’s supporters from PKR, who said he should assume the top office on that date based on a claim that Mahathir had promised to step down after two years.
Mahathir had repeatedly said he would give way to Anwar but refused to state a date, as there was no black and white agreement when PH leaders agreed to appoint him as prime minister.
At the meeting, Khalid also dismissed concerns by PPBM’s Syed Saddiq and Radzi Jidin over repeated calls by Anwar’s supporters for Mahathir to step down.
The duo had earlier said there was no use in always discussing a power transition when leaders would later repeat calls for Mahathir to step down.
But Khalid shot back: “Don’t say it’s a repeat of the previous Presidential Council meetings. This is the first time the issue is being brought for discussion.”
Support for Khalid came from DAP leaders including Loke Siew Fook, who said both Anwar and Mahathir must be part of the PH government.
“Handover will happen after May 9, but the centre (Anwar and Mahathir) has to be strengthened,” Loke said.
Khalid’s strongest opponent was Azmin, who also took potshots at Anwar, accusing his party boss of undermining Mahathir’s policies.
“Now we have a top leader who never once touched on the Shared Prosperity Vision in any of his engagements, whether in dialogues or seminars. This is the fear among civil servants,” Azmin said, adding that he himself had been labelled “Mahathir’s barua (pimp)” for asking the elderly leader to stay on.
Azmin also said any power transition “should not be decided by two individuals”.
“The federal constitution states that anyone should get the confidence of the majority in the Dewan Rakyat before he is appointed as the prime minister by the Agong.
“Tun, I bring with me the constitution today. Article 43 states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as prime minister a member of the Dewan Rakyat who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the Dewan.
“Where does it state that the party or the Presidential Council can decide on the prime minister? If we believe in the rule of law, let us go back to the constitution, let the constitution decide and dictate our decision.
“We can propose, but the people will punish us for not following the constitution if we limit or allow the Presidential Council to decide on a transition date,” said Azmin.
Azmin also hit out at Khalid for saying the people’s perception of a power struggle should not have any bearing on PH’s decision on the power transition.
He said government leaders were obsessed with discussing the power transition and the future prime minister.
“Don’t we have any other work?” he asked.