Mahathir the poker grandmaster

The former PM seems to be inviting all of Malaysia to umpire his duel with Najib.


PM Najib has found himself between the devil and the deep blue sea in the high stakes game with Dr Mahathir. The former prime minister has been parading Najib’s open cards on everything from 1MDB, Jho Low to Riza Aziz, and now Sirul. By doing this in plain view of the media, he seems to be inviting all of Malaysia to umpire this duel. But he hasn’t yet shown his own 5th card and Najib would surely love to skip this game for a round of golf instead.

But Najib cannot refuse this game. If he refuses, he looks like he has skeletons to hide. His credibility with Umno leaders and the public takes a nosedive. If he accepts, he would go up against the supreme grandmaster who authored the play book.

The pleas for more private meetings through go-betweens is a sure sign that Najib cannot afford any more public dressing down from Mahathir. It is one thing to claim that international observers might not understand local politics. But for Umno and the Malaysian public, this is a slow motion re-run. Mahathir offered the easy way out to Najib before the Umno general meeting last November. It was spurned. Now that Mahathir has committed himself to the game, there is no turning back. The opportunity for a graceful exit has come and gone.

Mahathir’s probing questions are seeking out Najib’s Achilles heel. Being the incumbent top man, Najib can shrug this off and say that explanations have already been given (as he may believe has been done by his TV interview last night ) and as all his staunchest allies are parroting. This is like holding a shield up to the dragon’s breath. Even if you survive the blast, you lose all your hair and your shield is useless for the second round. That is to say, you can’t keep denying without giving a logical and reasonable explanation at some point in time. Connected Malaysia can judge for itself if the answers are just more evasions or have the ring of truth to them. Mahathir is unconvinced as are many who share this logic.

Which weak card in Najib’s hand will prove to be his Achilles heel? We suspect Mahathir already knows which, and he is merely going through the motions to allow Najib the chance to bow out gracefully before he has to face the dragon’s teeth and claws. Does Najib dare to call Mahathir’s bluff? He will have to pay if he wants to see Mahathir’s hand. All of Malaysia will see Mahathir’s hidden card in due course, if Najib “calls”.

Mahathir the poker grandmaster
Ishmael Lim
April 10, 2015 – FMT


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