By Mohsin Abdullah
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has always lamented on the existence of too many Malay political parties in the country, saying this will only divide the Malays more.
And he has often said the many (especially new) Malay-based parties in the country would leave the Malays without any one big party to represent them.
But then he has now formed a new political party. And it's Malay-based. Ironic you might say?
Mahathir has his reasons for forming his new, yet to be named party. Chiefly, the Bersatu party he formed to fight for the Malays, he said, was "hijacked" by current president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. And "Umno, PAS and Bersatu under Muhyiddin's leadership have departed from their struggle when it comes to Malay politics".
Still, the reality is that the Malays will now have another choice to add to the available choices i.e. Umno, PAS, Amanah and of course Bersatu. Then there are the smaller parties like Berjasa and Putra, to name just a couple.
This is not to say the Malays would be spoiled for choice. Rather this will see Malay votes split at least three ways – something Mahathir has always been unhappy about.
Dr Yusri Ibrahim, head of research at Ilham Center, sees it this way: "Malay votes will be given to a political coalition, not to individual parties. At present, Malay votes are focused on Barisan Nasional/Muafakat Nasional and Pakatan Harapan.
If Mahathir's party joins Pakatan Harapan, Malay votes would still remain between the two coalitions, i.e. BN/MN and PH.
Yusri concurs that should Mahathir form a new coalition, Malay votes will be split three ways, but "in current political situation, the issue of split Malay votes is not too constrained".
However, Mahathir as for now has said his party will remain "bebas" or free, and will not be joining Pakatan Harapan or Perikatan Nasional.
Based on that, says veteran political writer Mohd Sayuti Omar, chances are Mahathir and his new party "would want to be kingmaker in the event Pakatan Harapan or Perikatan Nasional not having the numbers".
In other words, Mahathir would be in a position to negotiate if not set terms outright.
And Mahathir has said that while his party might not be able to form the government, "we can be a decisive force".
But for that, his party would need to win at least six to ten seats according to Sayuti.
The question is, can his party do it?
"They should contest the seats contested and won by Bersatu in the last election. There's hope there but Mahathir himself must go down and campaign hard himself," says the political writer.
Having said that, Sayuti says he feels the new party would only want to take one shot at the next general election.
The big question to ask: is Mahathir's new party in for the long haul or just a party for GE15?
It all depends on the coalition it joins, says Yusri.
"In the present situation, no party on its own can be dominant in Malaysian politics. They must form, or be part of, a stable political coalition to survive."
In announcing his new party, Mahathir did say this: "When we contest (in the next general election), we may have some agreement with parties, we may not. But after the election, we may join one group or the other."
That's Mahathir for you. To say the obvious, reading his move is no easy feat.
"We are free, we can make any decision to join whichever party which we think will carry out the purpose for which were formed," said Mahathir as quoted by MalaysiaKini when announcing the formation of his party on Friday August 7.
And he gave the same remarks when asked if he would form a third bloc with Sabah's Warisan party, a strong ally of his.
Nevertheless, Yusri expects Mahathir to work towards forming a new coalition if he does not want or cannot be part of current political coalitions.
"He still has the potential to come up with a coalition with Warisan, the Sarawak parties, the Azmin faction, Hishammuddin group in Umno and even sections from DAP and Amanah."
Yusri sees Mahathir as a "politician-strategist extraordinaire who can come up with all sorts of brilliant plans with much success". If not all the times, a number of times.
Will he be able to pull out the rabbit from the magic hat once again?
Yusri and Sayuti are certain Mahathir's loyalists in Bersatu will join his new party.
Are there many of them? It's a tall order to get the exact numbers!
But in the words of Yusri, with the entry of Mahathir's new party, the already simmering political climate is set to be spiced up as the nation awaits GE15.
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)