It was almost midnight on May 9, 2018. The results of the 14th General Election showed that Pakatan Harapan (PH) had successfully secured the majority to form the Federal Government. The mood at the PH main operation centre at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaling Jaya was euphoric and triumphant.
Tun Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Muhyiddin and other senior PH leaders gathered in a room next to the main operation centre. I walked into the room to hand over the latest results.
Before leaving the room, I congratulated Tan Sri Muhyiddin and told him, “You did it”. To me, this man has redeemed his dignity.
Of course, Tun Mahathir was the man of the hour. He led Pakatan Harapan to victory. He was not only the longest-serving prime minister but also the first former prime minister who made a comeback as prime minister for the second time.
His resolute leadership, wit and cunning way of manoeuvring things managed to put the fragile Pakatan Harapan in the best-ever position to challenge and outdo Barisan Nasional (BN).
But Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s role was instrumental, too. He was the one who spearheaded the formation of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (BERSATU). He was the party’s main architect. Many discussions on the formation of BERSATU took place at Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s private office and at his residence in Bukit Damansara.
The formation of BERSATU with Tun Mahathir as its chairman and Tan Sri Muhyiddin as its president, though on hindsight was not the most ideal arrangement, albeit, was a success. While Tun Mahathir played the figurehead role, Tan Sri Muhyiddin assumed the more strategic role in forming party divisions and branches, overseeing the day-to-day running of the party and preparing it for elections. He was also PH election director.
With all the hard work, perseverance, sweat and tears put into building the new party, within a year, BERSATU had a complete structure, right from the Supreme Leadership Council at the top to divisions and branches in all states.
After about two years in the political wilderness, Tan Sri Muhyiddin made a return to the government as Minister of Home Affairs. Being an experienced minister and former deputy prime minister, managing the ministry came in quite handy for him.
But his political victory was about to be shattered by another battle. Barely one month after assuming his duty, he broke the news to us about him being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is an aggressive type of cancer. It was after the Aidilfitri break and we were shocked.
He said he would undergo treatment in Singapore and asked us to prepare a media statement on his health condition. He did not want to hide his ailment from the public.
He then took one-month medical leave to remove the cancer and undergo post-surgery treatment.
But that was not the end of it all. He needed to undergo chemotherapy treatment for the first six months after the surgery, followed by six months of close monitoring.
The chemotherapy treatment was the hardest part. Though he was visibly weak, he came to the office regularly. He also attended cabinet meetings, chaired post-cabinet meetings and attended party functions. In other words, it was work as usual.
He even led the party machinery in by-elections during the period. Only on the hardest days of his chemotherapy treatment did he take leave from work.
As the cancer was detected early, the treatment went well and he fully recovered. He got his clean bill of health by the end of 2019.
Survivor of two battles
By the grace of God, not only did he survive the political battle, he also won the battle against cancer. Indeed, he is a survivor.
There was talk within the political circle that Tan Sri Muhyiddin would retire. Yes, I thought he would, too. After surviving the two biggest battles in his life, what else can we expect from him?
He is a human being, too. He deserved a graceful exit from politics and he should have enjoyed a peaceful retirement. Anyway, political life is always stormy and finding peace is a luxury.
After seeing him surviving the two battles and enduring the pain, I told my colleagues, “If boss wants to retire, we should not say ‘No’”.
However, by October 2019, something was brewing on the political front. The relationship between Tun Mahathir and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim turned sour. The former did not seem to be ready to leave office anytime sooner, and the latter was getting more and more impatient to take over the coveted position of prime minister after waiting for so long.
Of course, there were political manoeuvrings on both sides, but Tan Sri Muhyiddin was not in the picture at all. It was either Tun Mahathir or Datuk Seri Anwar who would be the winner.
However, after Tun Mahathir tendered his resignation on Feb 24, 2020, and refused to accept the support of UMNO Members of Parliament on an en bloc basis to make the second comeback as prime minister, there was an attempt to name Tan Sri Muhyiddin as the prime minister candidate. The reason was, without the support of all UMNO MPs, neither Tun Mahathir nor Datuk Seri Anwar would get the confidence of the majority to be the prime minister. They had to find an alternative candidate.
But Tan Sri Muhyiddin stood firm that BERSATU must only name Tun Mahathir as prime minister. Not him. He told BERSATU Members of Parliament to only submit one name to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the night before they had the audience with the King. And the name was Tun Mahathir.
True enough, neither Tun Mahathir nor Datuk Seri Anwar got the majority support from the MPs to be sworn in as the prime minister.
8th Prime Minister
It was at this moment that Tan Sri Muhyiddin was called into action to save the situation. After Tun Mahathir failed to get the support of the majority, he finally agreed that his name be submitted to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the prime minister candidate.
Out of respect for Tun Mahathir, he went to see the former prime minister at his office and requested him to support his nomination as the prime minister. It was like a déjà vu for me as I waited outside the PM’s office while Tan Sri Muhyiddin and two other BERSATU leaders met Tun Mahathir.
After he came out from the room, he told me in the presence of the two BERSATU leaders that Tun Mahathir did not object to his proposed nomination and said he could proceed with it if he could get enough support from the MPs.
But later, Tun Mahathir refused to support Tan Sri Muhyiddin and nominated himself as the prime minister candidate instead.
Against all odds, Tan Sri Muhyiddin managed to garner enough support from the MPs and was sworn in as the 8th Prime Minister on March 1, 2020.
His ascension to the post of prime minister marked the beginning of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, consisting of MPs from BERSATU, BN, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
On Aug 7, 2020, PN was officially registered as a coalition of political parties comprising BERSATU, PAS, STAR and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP). In addition to these founding members of PN, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAKAN) joined PN as a component party on Feb 11, 2021.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s ascension to the top job was unplanned, and the formation of PN as a new government was the result of an unprecedented political crisis. The ensuing health, economic and political crises that the PN government had to grapple with in the past year were also unprecedented.
How on earth could this government survive?