Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen
I wish to be the first to congratulate Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for successfully bringing about a Mexican Standoff that is set to trigger a complete change in the way we deal with Malaysian politics.
Yes, there were those who tried to coin the term early on in 2019 to describe a confrontation between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, though I made it absolutely clear that a Mexican Standoff can only take place when no strategy exists that allows anyone to achieve victory.
In the case of Mahathir vs Anwar, the question of there being a standoff never came into the picture, as Anwar never had numbers to begin with, and as such, never posed a threat to Mahathir.
In the case of Zahid vs Muhyiddin, both dared each other via threats to see who would bend first, or, as racers would put it, “who would chicken out first.”
In the end, both refused to bend, resulting in a definite Mexican Standoff, where the only resolve now is for both parties to maintain strategic tension until some outside event makes it possible to resolve the tension.
Zahid represents UMNO’s Team A, a minority faction that now comprises only seven Members of Parliament and less than 15 per cent UMNO division and branch leaders.
Zahid’s Team A is patronized by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and is in control of UMNO’s Supreme Council, known also as the Majlis Kepimpinan Tertinggi (MKT).
However, not only is the MKT out of sync with the majority, many in UMNO are demanding a leadership change and want the party to break ties with PPBM right away, not during the 15thgeneral election.
But Zahid and Najib want to buy time.
They’re telling division heads, “let’s tell Muhyiddin that we agree to wait until the 15thgeneral election before we break ties with PPBM, and let’s see what he says.”
They’re doing this for two reasons:
1. They want to make sure that nobody else takes over UMNO and leads the party into a collaboration with Mahathir and his Third Force bloc.
2. They want Muhyiddin to get jittery and enter a “power transition agreement.”
Zahid and Najib know that Muhyiddin is desperate as his party lacks grassroots support and needs UMNO’s machinery during the 15thgeneral election.
They also know that PPBM and UMNO will fare badly during the 15thgeneral election against a Third Force bloc led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
But they have no choice, as not only will Mahathir never work with them, he will never agree to meddle with the courts to set them free.
So they took their chances with Muhyiddin and hoped that he would offer UMNO more seats in return for their support and UMNO’s machinery.
Zahid and Najib planned to use the offer to convince UMNO leaders that the party needed to unite against Mahathir in a “do or die” battle come the 15thgeneral election.
But Muhyiddin did not offer UMNO anything.
Instead, he acknowledged the MKT’s decision and committed himself to Perikatan Nasional despite knowing that PPBM stands a cat in hell’s chance of winning even three seats without UMNO’s help.
So ego got in the way, and we now have a Mexican Standoff. Question is, what is going to happen next?
Well, should there be no indicator that Parliement will dissolve come March end or early April, a huge majority comprising UMNO division leaders, UMNO Members of Parliament and even some MPs from East Malaysia is said to be planning a ‘grand breakaway’ from Perikatan Nasional.
Key individuals from UMNO are also said to be contemplating an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to remove Zahid as party president and to bring about a leadership change that may involve Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and another statesman from outside UMNO.
That, in essence, is how the Mexican Standoff might be resolved.
There could be more, but let’s keep that for a later date.