KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s former two-time prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has formed a cooperation with his former rival of 30 years, Umno lawmaker Razaleigh Hamzah, ahead of a crucial vote on the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s 2021 budget on Tuesday (Dec 15).
In a press conference on Monday (Dec 14), Tun Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh, the most senior MP from government party Umno, said that they are willing to “contribute” their expertise to developing Malaysia should the budget fail at its final committee stage voting on Tuesday.
But the two statesmen stopped short of saying that they are looking to secure a parliamentary majority to form the next Malaysian government.
In an unusual sight in Malaysian politics, they sat side by side at the joint news conference in Dr Mahathir’s office in Kuala Lumpur, burying three decades of political enmity.
The news conference came just weeks after pictures emerged of a meeting between the two men, leading to speculation that they would team up against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
The Muhyiddin-led PN administration only has a single-digit majority in the 222-strong Parliament.
Tengku Razaleigh, who had been an outspoken critic of Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s administration, on Monday labelled the government as “illegitimate”, the clearest indication that he breaking ranks with his party. Umno contributes the biggest bloc of MPs for the Muhyiddin administration.
Tengku Razaleigh, 83, served under Dr Mahathir’s Cabinet twice during the 1980s, but the two men became bitter rivals from 1987 when the former challenged the latter for the Umno presidency.
Tengku Razaleigh went on to form his own party called Semangat 46, before rejoining Umno in 1996.
He currently is on his ninth consecutive term as the MP of Gua Musang in the state of Kelantan. He is also chairman of Umno’s board of advisers.
“We are two old men. There is no need to pay us a salary, even. We just want to contribute based on our experience and our know-how,” Dr Mahathir, 95, said.
He said their combined experience could help restore Malaysia’s economic reputation as a “tiger” economy as it was called in the 1990s.
Dr Mahathir, who quit as prime minister in February following a political crisis that saw formation of the current PN government, said Malaysians have an appetite for a “new government that does not only think about themselves”.
Tengku Razaleigh, meanwhile, said that PN’s policies were exacerbating economic disparity in Malaysia.
This is not the first time that Dr Mahathir, who was Prime Minister for 22 years during his first term, had joined forces with long-standing political rivals.
In 2016, the former premier set aside differences with opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to form the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition, which went on to win federal power in 2018.
Dr Mahathir was Prime Minister for 22 months in his second term before his party at the time, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), left PH.
This led Bersatu’s president, Mr Muhyiddin, 73, to form a new political alliance by joining up with Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and a coalition of parties from Sarawak.
Dr Mahathir has since formed another new party, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang), which is awaiting ratification from the Registrar of Societies (ROS).
Mr Muhyiddin’s first ever federal budget which was unveiled on Nov 6, had already been passed at policy stage and several committee stage levels in Parliament.
But the final vote for the budget will take place on Tuesday.
Tengku Razaleigh, who was not present in Parliament to debate or vote on the budget during the policy stage, confirmed that he would not be present for Tuesday’s debate and vote as well, further thinning numbers on Mr Muhyiddin’s side.
PH, in a statement on Monday, said that it will vote down the budget because the Bill “had not met its objectives”.
“As such, we urge any MPs, be it from the government or opposition, who understand the the budget has not met its objectives, will vote it down at the third reading,” the three-party coalition said in a joint statement signed by the secretary-generals from DAP, PKR and Amanah.
However, any attempt to defeat Mr Muhyiddin’s budget would likely hinge on Dr Mahathir, together with opposition leader, Mr Anwar, 73, who leads the PH coalition.
Mr Anwar, who is no longer working with Dr Mahathir following the latter’s departure from PH, has so far failed to show any proof to back his claim that he has secured enough MPs to topple the PN government.