The power and wealth political equation that Mahathir plays has been reduced to just a tussle about wealth. And Mahathir has lowered his sights from RM100 billion to just RM20 billion. But to even get back just RM20 billion Mahathir needs to create the perception he is still in the power game. If not even that RM20 billion would be money down the drain. And that is what Pribumi is really all about.
The analogy I would like to use is that of a chettiar who every household in that community owes money to. Basically, the chettiar has always played the role of local or community banker in the days when banks were not around or would not lend to high-risk clients. This was where the chettiar came in. There was no collateral to speak about (which was why the borrowers are considered high risk). So, much was based on trust and handshakes.
One day the chettiar is diagnosed with a terminal ailment and is told he might not survive six months. The chettiar goes into panic. Six months or less is too short a time to collect back all your debts that for years have remained static except for the monthly interest payments. It will take years to get back all his money, time the chettiar does not have. The people in that community, on the other hand, are delighted to hear this ‘good news’ because in just a few months they are all going to be free of debt and free of the monthly interest payments once the chettiar goes to meet his maker.
That is the same feeling that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is having. He has RM100 billion out there and if he wants to collect back that RM100 billion he must not give the impression that he is dying or dead — figure of speech, of course. He must give the impression that not only is he still kicking but that he can kick with political strength and power as well. If not his RM100 billion is as good as gone.
That is Mahathir’s current predicament, which is even more important than his son’s political career, which is as good as bust, or the possibility of his son becoming prime minister in future, which is also now an impossible dream turned nightmare.
In a previous article we wrote about the power and wealth equation in Mahathir’s politics ( READ HERE ). To understand what some call Mahathirism, we have to first analyse that creature named Mahathir and comprehend what drives him. Mahathir subscribes to a certain doctrine, so to understand Mahathirism you have to understand the Mahathirism doctrine.
Mahathir’s doctrine is political power without economic power is not real power. Those with just political power would become subservient to the economic masters. To get real political power you need to also have economic power and become masters of both.
Mahathir made this point very clear in his 1970 book, ‘The Malay Dilemma’, which the government banned at that time. That was also what prompted Mahathir to attack Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Mahathir accused the Tunku of giving too much face to the Chinese and of not putting the Chinese in their place. Mahathir was upset that while the Malays had political power, economic power was in the hands of the Chinese.
The reality of the situation at that time was that Umno may have had political power but it did not have economic power. Umno depended on ‘generous’ donations and contributions from the Chinese to fund its political activities and fund the elections. It was a sort of partnership between the Malays and Chinese. The Malays will hold political power while the Chinese would hold economic power. And they will work together and help each other. If the Chinese need certain things (such as permits or licences) the Malays will give it to them while if the Malays need money the Chinese will reciprocate and give it to them.
Mahathir was not happy with this arrangement and that was why he rebelled against the Tunku and Umno, and got sacked from the party because of it. If Umno really wants power it has to become rich and not depend on the Chinese for funding. And when he took over in 1981, Mahathir showed Umno what he meant.
As soon as he took over as Prime Minister, the first thing Mahathir did was to turn Umno into a corporate entity. Before that, 70-80% of Umno leaders at branch and division level were teachers and government servants. Mahathir ‘banned’ these people from holding office in Umno and the vacuum created was filled by businessmen, professionals and corporate people.
Within a very short time Umno was turned into a party of towkays, just like its partner, MCA. Eventually, more time was spent making money than on political matters. Umno became a party of ‘money talks and bullshit walks’. That was Mahathir’s greatest ‘achievement’ in Umno. And yet he now complains that everything in Umno is about money. But is this not Mahathir’s doing — so that Umno can fund itself and would no longer need Chinese towkays?
Then Mahathir launched many mega-projects that were either given to Umno-owned companies, Umno cronies, or Umno had a stake in the project. I have written about this so many times and many books have been written about this matter so I will not repeat what I have previously said. Suffice to say that Umno became the largest business enterprise in Malaysia, all thanks to Mahathir.
When Mahathir almost lost control of Umno in 1987, he realised the danger of placing all that wealth in Umno’s name. Mahathir would have access to that wealth only as long as he still controlled Umno. If he lost control of Umno then he would also lose control of that wealth. And that was when Mahathir decided to move Umno’s billions out of the party and park it under proxies, nominees and trustees. Then, if he loses control of Umno, he would not also lose control of Umno’s money.
Most Malaysians know whom these proxies, nominees and trustees are. Their names have appeared in the news often enough and many books have been written about this, identifying these people and naming them. And if you do not know these household names you cannot possibly be a Malaysian.
Of course, not only did Mahathir have his ‘stable’ of proxies, nominees and trustees. Tun Daim Zainuddin and Anwar Ibrahim did as well. Sometimes Mahathir and Daim or Daim and Anwar ‘shared’ proxies, nominees and trustees. In the end it became impossible to identify who owned what. The only way to total it all up would be to say that Mahathir, Daim and Anwar, plus their families, combined, own RM200 billion, half of which belonged to Mahathir.
When Mahathir handed the reins of power to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 1st November 2003, he handed the Prime Minister just political power but did not give him access to the money. And if Abdullah needed money he would have to go running to Mahathir for it.
Mahathir gave Abdullah the RM1.5 billion he needed for the March 2004 general election but to get more money Abdullah would need to listen to what Mahathir says and do what Mahathir wants. Abdullah found that stifling but if he wanted to break away from Mahathir he would first need to sort out his finances.
And that was when his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, his son, Kamal, Kalimullah Hassan, Patrick Lim, etc., had to do deals to fatten Umno’s coffers and build up a war chest to face the next general election in 2008. Mahathir was furious and he whacked Abdullah and his family and called them thieves — and he called Kalimullah a ‘Hindu God Muslim Priest’ and he called Patrick Lim ‘Patrick Badawi’.
Mahathir knew that Abdullah was trying to become ‘financially independent’ so that he need not run back to Mahathir for funding. But then if Abdullah became ‘financially independent’ Mahathir would not be able to control him and tell him what to do — which was the whole idea as far as Abdullah was concerned.
If Abdullah wanted to become ‘financially independent’ and no longer listen to Mahathir then he had to go. And in 2006 Mahathir launched his oust-Abdullah campaign.
Then Najib took over on 3rd April 2009 and Mahathir made sure that this time he would not ‘lose’ Najib like he did Abdullah. But Najib knew if he depended on Mahathir for funding the old man would become the de facto Prime Minister while he would become Mahathir’s proxy Prime Minister. He had to find his own source of funding to be free of Mahathir. And that was when the RM4-billion donation came in, half to fund the 2013 general election and the balance to fund Barisan Nasional’s political activities.
Mahathir had many of his stooges and spies in Umno (he still does, in fact) so the RM4 billion could not go into Umno’s coffers. If not Mahathir would know immediately and this would tip off the old man that Najib was attempting to become independent. After discussing this matter with Bank Negara, Najib was advised to bank the money into his personal bank account so that the money would be free from encumbrances.
Of course, Mahathir found out about the money later but by then it was too late to do anything about it. All Mahathir could do was to shout and scream that Najib stole that money from 1MDB and that no Arab would be generous enough to donate that much money (whereas Mahathir himself obtained billions from the Arabs to fund many things, the UIA being one of them).
We have written about the rest of the events of 2014-2016 in great detail over the last two years so we need not repeat all that. Suffice to say that Najib needed to go and the failure of his son Mukhriz, who lost the bid for Umno Youth Leader in 2009, and the bid for an Umno Vice President’s post in 2013, which Mahathir blames Najib for, meant the Prime Minister must be brought down at all cost.
Today, Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz are both finished. There is no longer any possibility for Mukhriz to become Prime Minister. If you can become Prime Minister outside Umno and as an opposition leader then it would have happened in 2008 or 2013. Mukhriz would need to be in Umno to become Prime Minister and Mukhriz is no longer in Umno.
So Mahathir’s focus is no longer about making Mukhriz the Prime Minister. It is now about getting back that RM100 billion of Umno’s wealth parked under the proxies, nominees and trustees. Mahathir will he happy to accept even just RM20 billion and forgo the rest. But this must be done while he still has the power to do it. Once he loses power then that RM100 billion is as good as gone. No one is going to pay back a dead man like the dying chettiar story earlier.
And that was why Mahathir created Pribumi. If Mahathir is party-less then no one is going to believe he has the muscles to oust Najib. And if Mahathir cannot oust Najib that means Najib is powerful while Mahathir is powerless. Pribumi, therefore, is meant to give this perception of strength and the impression that he is still in the game and is in control of the ball.
But Pribumi cannot be seen as just another player. It must be seen as the leading player. Pakatan Harapan must no longer be a DAP-led Pakatan Harapan. It must become a Pribumi-led Pakatan Harapan. Pribumi must emerge as the leader of the pack, so to speak.
But then that is a tall order and easier said than done. First of all, Pribumi is being ‘marketed’ as the replacement to Umno or the alternative to Umno. For people to believe this, Pribumi must contest 120 parliament seats. Maybe they can get away with contesting just 80 parliament seats without losing credibility but it cannot be less than that.
The question is where are those 120 or 80 seats going to come from? PKR and PAN said that they are prepared to ‘donate’ some seats to Pribumi. PAN does not own any seats that they can donate to Pribumi while PKR owns 99 seats (‘own’ here means seats they contested in the 2013 general election and won plus lost).
PKR said it is prepared to give all those seats it lost to Pribumi. That would come to less than 70 seats. PAS will not hand any seats to Pribumi (and PAN owns nothing). So the balance has to come from DAP. How many seats is DAP prepared to sacrifice? DAP owns only 51 seats. Surely it cannot donate 40 seats to Pribumi! And is PKR prepared to contest only 30 seats, which is what would happen if they hand the seats they lost to Pribumi?
If PKR hands 70 seats to Pribumi and if it contest only 30 seats, there will be a rebellion and mass resignations from the party. Expect many PKR leaders to resign from the party or cross over to Umno in protest. This is something even Azmin Ali cannot pull off and which Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will not allow to happen.
Initially, Pakatan Harapan thought that Pribumi was going to take seats away from Umno. Now it looks like Pribumi is going to take seats away from Pakatan Harapan instead. And, worse still, Pribumi is going to take the Chinese or mixed seats, not the Malay seats. So that means Umno will retain its ‘traditional’ seats while Pribumi will ‘steal’ seats from PKR and DAP.
That is not exactly what they had in mind in the beginning. Pribumi was supposed to replace Umno, not replace PKR and DAP. So Pakatan Harapan is not so gung ho about Pribumi after all. Pribumi is not going to fish in Umno’s pond. It is going to fish in the Pakatan Harapan pond. In that case why do they need Pribumi?
And that was why Mahathir went to court on Monday to pay homage to Anwar. It looks like Pakatan Harapan is turning cold towards Pribumi so Mahathir needs to give them a reason to become hot again. And that kunjungan hormat and the handshake between Mahathir and Anwar were supposed to be a ‘step up’ in the relationship between Pribumi and Pakatan Harapan. It was supposed to have been just like the ‘ping pong diplomacy’ between China and America in the 1970s.
While the ‘ping pong diplomacy’ between China and America was a big hit in the 1970s, Mahathir’s visit to the court to shake Anwar’s hand did not have the same affect. As Azmin Ali revealed, it was an ‘arranged’ meeting. And the person who arranged the meeting was, of course, Azmin. Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah, however, did not support the meeting. So they did not go to court. DAP also did not support the meeting and that is why all the DAP leaders also did not go to court, in particular Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng.
In fact, DAP is having second thoughts about Pribumi. They were excited at first when Pribumi was supposed to be the alternative to Umno. But the recent twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar proved that this is not happening. Instead, Pribumi would need to depend on Chinese votes and not Malays votes to survive. Even Muhyiddin and Mukhriz will have to run away to Chinese seats if they want to win because they are going to lose in their traditional Malay seats. That would mean Pribumi is actually a competitor to DAP and not a competitor to Umno.
The results of the twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar and the Sarawak state election have proven that Mahathir’s ‘wow factor’ is gone. Mahathir cannot pull the Malay votes from Umno and instead he will cause DAP to lose Chinese votes. So Mahathir’s so-called ‘asset value’ is actually a big liability. DAP’s concern is only regarding the Chinese votes and they are worried the Chinese will punish DAP like they did in 1999 if it forms an alliance with Mahathir and his Pribumi.
Furthermore, when Lim Kit Siang first supported Mahathir’s Save Malaysia campaign and the Citizens’ Declaration, it was because Mahathir was going to solve Lim Guan Eng’s legal issue with the MACC. Mahathir failed to deliver that as well. So on all counts Mahathir has failed to deliver. And the DAP grassroots are also beginning to grumble and there is a fear that if DAP does team up with Mahathir they might have a mutiny on their hands. Only Kit Siang and Guan Eng are gung ho about Pribumi. The rest of DAP are not.
There is already a very clear sign that the ‘ping pong diplomacy’ has failed. Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah would never support Azmin’s move knowing that Mahathir wants him to oust Wan Azizah and take control of PKR. The question many are asking is whether Anwar was in the know or whether he was as surprised as everyone else to see Mahathir in court to shake his hand. After all, Anwar did call Mahathir a serpent and cautioned PKR to beware of the serpent just a few weeks ago. Can Anwar have done a u-turn so fast?
No doubt some hail the Monday handshake as a milestone in Malaysian politics, the beginning of a new era, the trigger that will start a political Tsunami, and so on. The truth is it was a total disaster and it just reinforced the belief that Pribumi is a dead duck and a stillborn party that is not going to be what they tout it to be.
The person who decides on seats is Azmin. However, Azmin has to run it by Anwar and Wan Azizah first. In the previous general election Anwar gave Azmin a free run even when Wan Azizah protested. And that was why many of Wan Azizah’s choice of candidates were not given any seat and when they went to complain to Anwar he told them the decision has to be left to Azmin. In other words, Azmin’s word is final and even Wan Azizah cannot override that.
Azmin believes that in the next general election he will also have full authority to decide on seats so he will be free to give as many seats to Pribumi as he wants to. However, in 2013, Azmin was not plotting to oust Wan Azizah and take over the party so she allowed Azmin to get away with it. This time if she still allows that then Wan Azizah is cutting her own throat because the plan is to get rid of all Wan Azizah’s people in Parliament and the State Assemblies and stuff the party with Azmin’s people.
And Mahathir knows that whether Azmin or Wan Azizah gets to decide on seats will depend on Anwar. So Mahathir has to court Anwar and that is the very reason he met up with Anwar on Monday to shake his hands.
Mahathir’s proxies, nominees and trustees are now monitoring the situation with great interest. Is Mahathir still in the game or is it game over? Whether Pribumi is allowed to join Pakatan Harapan and, more importantly, gets to lead Pakatan Harapan, will determine whether Mahathir is still in the game or it is already game over.
Najib also knows that all Mahathir wants is to get his hands on the RM100 billion. And Najib will make sure that does not happen. After all, the money belongs to Umno and not to Mahathir. Mahathir just used Umno’s name to make all that money on the pretext that the proxies, nominees and trustees are not his but Umno’s.
So now the proxies, nominees and trustees have to decide whether to listen to Mahathir or listen to Najib. And who they listen to will depend on who has the real political power. If Pribumi emerges as the new opposition kingpin and Pakatan Harapan becomes a Pribumi-led Pakatan Harapan that is going to take over Putrajaya in the next general election, then the proxies, nominees and trustees will stay with Mahathir. If not they will abandon Mahathir and listen to Najib instead. And Barisan Nasional instead of Pakatan Harapan will get that money to finance the next general election — Najib will make sure of that.
But then if Mahathir does get his hands on the money, or at least part of that money, will he use it to finance Pribumi and Pakatan Harapan or will he walk away with the money? I would bet my bottom dollar that Mahathir will not waste that money on a lost cause such as Pribumi and Pakatan Harapan but will instead keep all the money for himself. Any takers?