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Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad waving to the media after his meeting with the King at the Istana Negara. - BERNAMA
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad waving to the media after his meeting with the King at the Istana Negara. - BERNAMA

THE so-called Sheraton escapade was a red herring to produce the notoriously short-lived Pakatan/Perikatan Nasional grand coalition.

This farcical “interim” grand coalition, crowded by Umno and Pas, was momentarily waltzing in fantasyland with giddy hopes that the power rudely wrested from them in 2018 would magically rematerialise. This after the emasculated government collapsed following Bersatu’s kick-in-the-teeth pullout from Pakatan Harapan.

It soon dawned upon the grand coalition that the Sheraton escapade was a tool of illusion that momentarily blindsided them to allow Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to execute a stunning pre-emptive strike against them.

In quick succession, he resigned as prime minister and shortly after, as Bersatu chairman, a classic move political scientists and historians would dub the Mahathir Manoeuvre years from now.

The Mahathir Manoeuvre was earthshakingly consequential: in giving up his dominant positions stemming from a hapless corner (allies wanted him out to make way for a long-time pretender), he gained more, if not virtually absolute, power.

While people are scrambling to figure out that mindboggling powerplay, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, in applying his discretionary/implied powers, startlingly appointed Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister, even though the phrase “interim” is absent from the Federal Constitution.

It wasn’t for morning coffee that he earlier consulted the chief justice and the attorney-general for advice on how to make the interim premiership happen.

And at 4.45pm yesterday, Dr Mahathir confirmed his intent for a unity government on national TV, tantalisingly void of details and no allusion at all to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as his successor.

Now comes the tricky part: forming a free-wheeling “Unity” cabinet of personally selected individuals unshackled by time-honoured conventions and constraints that headlocked him since his herculean feat of overthrowing the Barisan Nasional government.

In his mind, the best Malaysian experts are needed for the job, political correctness be damned.

Dr Mahathir knows that the 65-year experimentation of a cabinet teeming on party lines, of MPs sponsored by their respective organisations, some incompetent, has failed dismally.

This failed convention, working on the influence of pipeline capitalism and eternal leadership struggle, prompted Dr Mahathir to conduct a new lab experimentation.

It will be a cabinet of peers and experts, instead of a cabinet of rent-seeking party interests.

Question is, and this is a contradiction in terms, can he do it — demolishing a timeless political tradition — without losing his base support of party MPs?

The idea of a Unity Cabinet that attracts the best, dare we say it, a team of rivals consisting of true intellectual/thinking scientists, technocrats and technicians, some not among party politicians, will be intriguing.

As far as the old Jedi master is concerned, his has no options. He must work wonders on a weakening Malaysian economy, which is also badly hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

How did it come to this radicalised forthcoming cabinet? Dr Mahathir is frustrated with the PH cabinet, which melded into a stagnancy that became a major public complaint.

The story goes that key ministers sat on legitimate SME project proposals, declining to exercise discretionary powers to approve them, preferring to pass the buck to the cabinet to the point of creating a huge cabinet paper backlog.

One example: an international business-to-business security vetting programme backed by the Chinese government that does not require public funds or aid, but offers in return sizeable inland revenue was perplexingly stalled.

Forced to revolutionise his realpolitik, Dr Mahathir will now apply his favourite political gambit — pragmatism, brushing aside party demands of nationalist, sectarian and ethnic requirements, as a means to shield the economy from further degradation.

The pragmatism has its risks: the parties backing Dr Mahathir’s sweeping plan may recoil at being “ignored” or, heavens, putting up with sworn enemies in the cabinet.

Then there’s this hypothesis that Dr Mahathir may be forced to administer a “minority” government, a circumstance that rails against his pragmatism and sensibility.

It’s all or nothing at all. Criticise him for instilling an iron grip but the democratic niceties of consultation, while textbook ideal, may be impractical in this deepening economic crisis.

Nonetheless, Dr Mahathir will still seek expert opinion but will be unyielding to squawking demands as he tries to pursue a commanding rein that won’t walk on eggshells or navigate a minefield.

This is possibly Dr Mahathir’s endgame, perhaps the last phase of unending missions that he now, on his amazing third tour as prime minister, has the opportunity to sew up before his time is up.

The writer is a retired NST editor, award-winning columnist and music critic

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