KT edit: Mahathir shows who the boss is

What makes Mahathir special is that he likes playing the game on his terms.

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Published: Mon 24 Feb 2020, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Feb 2020, 8:46 PM

There are no permanent friends or foes in politics and former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is living proof of that statement. The master politician has done it again to keep his rivals and friends guessing about his next move following his resignation. Let's get this straight - the 94-year-old appears in no hurry to cede power. He has rocked the coalition boat and caught current PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim unawares. But his decision has also plunged the country into political crisis that could have well been avoided had he simply handed over the reins of power to Anwar, his frenemy under the terms of an agreement signed two years ago after their alliance ousted former PM Najib Razak in the general elections.
What makes Mahathir special is that he likes playing the game on his terms. He's a crafty politician who makes his rivals look like novices. The doctor-turned-politician appears at ease taking out of friends while making old foes come over to his side. Malaysia's longest serving PM, who made the country an economic powerhouse, is still the most influential man in the country. He has dumped Anwar while patching up with Najib's Umno party. The trouble is, Umno is playing hardball, and Mahathir is finding his effort at government formation harder than he had thought it would be.
The current political crisis in Malaysia also comes at a time when the whole of Southeast Asia faces a coronavirus outbreak that has emanated in China. Mahathir's moves could hamper the country's decision-making ability with no leader at the helm. The veteran leader could be planning a return to the post with other partners in a new coalition government, if he plays his cards right, and keeps it close to his chest. Mahathir's Bersatu party, by walking out of the ruling alliance, is open to fresh ties. Ever the strategist, Mahathir's resignation as party chairman gives him room to stitch together a new coalition with Umno and other fringe parties. Several cabinet ministers have already left the ruling coalition and the People's Justice Party (PKR) that Anwar heads is out on a limb. Mahathir wants to prove to his critics that there is no alternative to him in Malaysian politics. Anwar has called those who switched sides traitors but is still holding out an olive branch to his rival and mentor in the hope that he will get his agreed shot at power. For the PKR leader - it's been a case of so close, yet so far. As for Mahathir, he knows he holds the aces. He wins both ways.

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