An East Malaysian can be interim PM too

When politics is no longer a mission but a profession, politicians become more self-serving than public servants.

– Emmanuel Macron, French President

I can vividly recall the numerous times Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stated that a Sarawakian or Sabahan can also become the prime minister of Malaysia.

This is factual, of course. There is nothing in the Federal Constitution to deny East Malaysians that opportunity.

The stark reality is that if you do not lobby for the job when the opportunity presents itself, you will never get it.

It has been 58 years since the formation of Malaysia and so far, no Sarawakian or Sabahan leader is worthy to be prime minister, or so it seems.

In his first 22 years as prime minister, Dr Mahathir had ensured that his allies in East Malaysia were appeased and this included assuring them at regular intervals that a Malaysian from the Borneo territories was also qualified to be prime minister.

In recent years, I could remember two occasions when Dr Mahathir had reassured East Malaysians of that — a shrewd move of a political tactician who would have no qualms about making promises with no intention of keeping them perhaps. 

The first was in the campaign leading up to GE14 in 2018. As the Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader, Dr Mahathir again declared the same, surely as a campaign strategy to win support from Sabahans and Sarawakians.

I recall then that Sabah PKR chairman Christina Liew was so taken in by Dr Mahathir’s word that she announced PH would create a second Deputy Prime Minister’s post for an East Malaysian leader.

In my response to Liew’s gloating over the second DPM’s post, I told the PKR leader not to be contented in merely settling for second best.

I wrote in Malaysiakini at that time, three years ago, that Liew should request for a Sabahan or Sarawakian be given the opportunity to be prime minister, and not just playing second fiddle to Malayan leaders all the time.

The second and most recent time Dr Mahathir mentioned the possibility of an East Malaysian becoming prime minister was in April 2020.

Following the Sheraton putsch and the fall of Pakatan Harapan, the former prime minister had suddenly declared at one stage that he supported Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal as prime minister.

It was known to many then that Dr Mahathir’s support for the Parti Warisan Sabah president was to thwart Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ascension to the premiership.

In PH’s 22 months as the federal government, no East Malaysian leader was ever appointed as second DPM. There you are, Christina Liew. Believe Dr Mahathir at your own peril.

Since September 2020, Shafie has been ousted as Sabah chief minister and the suggestion to nominate him as prime ministerial candidate for the opposition has also fizzled out.

Today, the federal government is in a mess and talk of an interim government is gaining momentum throughout the country.

We are on the brink of a constitutional crisis with the government clashing with the palace over the Emergency ordinances.

I am all for an interim government too. It is the right solution but it is also important that the interim government must be inclusive and this means the opposition must also be invited to participate.

The interim government should have three main tasks — to lead us through the Covid-19 pandemic, plan our economic recovery and prepare the staging of GE15.

We need an interim prime minister. Who should he or she be?

Ideally, it must be a leader which both sides are able to accept. But that is easier said than done.

After the past 18 months of political hell both PH and Perikatan Nasional (PN) went through, it is understandable if no one is prepared to give an inch. Animosity is too deeply entrenched.

This is where if there is any prevailing good sense, the interim PM post can go to a Sabah or Sarawak leader. An East Malaysian leader can act as a neutralising factor for the warring factions in Malaya. 

My first choice as interim PM is Shafie Apdal who is certainly experienced enough to be prime minister. He has been a senior federal minister for a long time and was also chief minister of Sabah.

Another possible candidate is Datuk Fadillah Yusof, current Senior Minister in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet, that is if a Sarawak candidate is to be considered. He is the most senior among Sarawak ministers in the federal cabinet.

After all, it is only an interim prime minister who will likely serve a few months to a year.

Well, if a Sabah or Sarawak leader has never been given the opportunity to be prime minister after 58 years, what about a chance as interim PM.

Well, have we not been hearing all too often that a Sabahan or Sarawakian can also be the prime minister? But Dr Mahathir, PN or PH, those are just sugar-coated words only, right?

Just when will the Malayans keep true to their word on this score, I wonder?

Now, it is clear why Sabah and Sarawak are insisting that the 222 parliamentary seats should be equally divided into three parts for three “equal partners” in the federation of Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.