5:50PM Feb 28, 2013
QUESTION TIME On the surface, that seems an easy enough question to answer. Perhaps if Pakatan Rakyat wins, then almost everyone expects Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister, even though there are minor dissenting voices from among coalition partners, notably PAS.
So why should not Najib Abdul Razak become prime minister if Barisan Nasional wins? Sure he will, for a start but how long he remains prime minister will depend crucially on how well – or badly – BN does at the polls.
As it is there is not a single person I could find who does not think there is some kind of tension between Najib and his deputy, both as Umno head and prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin. The popular wisdom is that Muhyiddin is poised to take on Najib if BN does not do well enough in the polls.
This column took a look at who is likely to win the polls about a month ago. In the unlikely event that Pakatan wins, Anwar is the clear choice for prime minister.
In the likely event that BN wins, the situation is not very clear-cut. Recall that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was pressured to step down as Umno head and prime minister even though he was a mere eight seats short of a two-thirds majority in the 2008 elections.
At the federal level it was a victory that would have counted as respectable in most countries except Malaysia, and of course our neighbour down south, Singapore.
The bigger rub was the unprecedented loss of five states in peninsular Malaysia and the popular vote here being just over 50 percent – for the opposition. Unquestionably Sabah and Sarawak saved the day for BN.
Abdullah had to come down from a major victory previously in 2004 when BN won over 90 percent of parliamentary seats and all states but Kelantan. The strong turn against BN in the peninsula was the reason Abdullah had to relent to pressure within his party to go, which he did later in 2008.
That resulted in Najib becoming the longest serving prime minister and Umno head without a direct mandate from the people via elections. But the day of reckoning is near and by June 28 at the latest the die will be cast. Then it will become clear, if BN wins, whether Najib will face pressure to cede the reins of power to Muhyiddin.
At the federal level, the common view, which I share, is that BN will not regain its two-thirds majority but is likely to remain in control via a smaller majority. That is not likely to help Najib’s case any, unless there are mitigating factors, aka the results of the state elections.
For Najib, that means BN will have to at least regain Selangor. That much seems obvious to Najib himself who has basically appointed himself as BN’s election director for Selangor in a high-stakes game to lessen pressure on him if BN wins – and regains Selangor.
But it is not a gamble that Najib could have avoided. If BN’s showing at the parliamentary level is less than before, than he has to do at least better in terms of states. Otherwise, the pressure is going to be great for him to step aside in favour of Muhyiddin, who is getting on in age and no doubt wants to try his hand at the helm.
One can expect then that a lot of effort is going to be spent on regaining Selangor. Even if there is some reduction in the number of parliamentary seats for BN, bringing Selangor into the BN fold may just tilt the balance in favour of Najib if there is no significant loss in terms of other states.
But what is the reality or rather the realistic outcome? If Pakatan wins (unlikely) Anwar will be PM. If BN wins big (unlikely) Najib will be PM. If BN wins narrowly (most likely) Najib is going to come under plenty of pressure to step down.
The eventual PM in that final scenario may well be, yes, Muhyiddin. I am not even going to comment – at least for now – on what that means for you and me.
P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz, a business news portal set up in a joint-venture with Malaysiakini. After all these years, Malaysian politics still baffles him.