Mahathir teams up with ex-rival ahead of final budget vote

Malaysia’s former two-time prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is cooperating 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 today.

In a press conference yesterday, Tun Dr Mahathir and 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 today.

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. It 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 has only a single-digit majority in the 222-strong Parliament.

Tengku Razaleigh, who had been an outspoken critic of Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s administration, yesterday labelled the government as “illegitimate”, the clearest indication that he is breaking ranks with his party.

Umno contributes the biggest bloc of MPs to the Muhyiddin administration.

Tengku Razaleigh, 83, served in 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, Semangat 46, before rejoining Umno in 1996.

He is currently on his ninth consecutive term as the MP of Gua Musang in Kelantan. He is also chairman of Umno’s board of advisers.

Dr Mahathir, 95, said: “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.”

He said their combined experience could help restore Malaysia’s economic reputation as a “tiger” economy, as it was called in the 1990s.

This is not the first time that Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years during his first term, had joined forces with longstanding political rivals.

In 2016, the former premier set aside differences with opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang and 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 teaming up with Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and a coalition of parties from Sarawak.

Mr Muhyiddin’s first federal budget, which was unveiled on Nov 6, had already been passed at policy stage and several committee stage levels in Parliament. The budget will be up for its final vote today.

The three-party PH, in a statement yesterday, said it will vote down the budget because the Bill “had not met its objectives”.

However, any attempt to defeat Mr Muhyiddin’s budget would likely hinge on Dr Mahathir working with Datuk Seri 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 proof to back his claim that he has secured enough MPs to topple the PN government.

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