Fresh wave of politics re-infects ailing Malaysia

Just as Malaysians return to some form of normality, a familiar issue has almost immediately reared its ugly head – politics.

The tussle to control Putrajaya returns – an unromantic, ugly saga that has been littered with lies, deceit and a whole lot of allegations over the years.

The plot is more confusing than a Spanish telenovela and as unattractive as German techno.

In the latest episode, the utter confusion in Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia takes centre stage. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is the party’s president and he is now being challenged by party chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the fourth, seventh, (at one time) interim, had hoped to be the eighth, but now gunning to be the ninth, Prime Minister of Malaysia.

And let’s not forget – Dr Mahathir is in the opposition camp.

(From left): The faces of Muhyiddin, Dr Mahathir and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir are seen on the landing page of Bersatu’s website.

The party’s youth wing, Armada, has pledged support for Dr Mahathir who is also working hand-in-hand with Pakatan Harapan (PH). That’s another drama as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who has been waiting to be prime minister for 20-odd years, still harbours aspirations to lead the country one day.

And despite being “disappointed” by his former boss-turned-nemesis at one time, Dr Mahathir, the duo are back working together – even making a joint statement recently.

Muhyiddin has the support of several Bersatu MPs and is joined by “acquaintances” from Umno and PAS in their loose, unregistered coalition called Perikatan Nasional.

The only glue that bound Perikatan Nasional then was the need to get rid of Dr Mahathir as PM and to a certain extent, DAP. This even prompted Dr Mahathir to recently blog: “DAP tidak mungkin hancur Melayu tetapi mereka akan hancur kerana orang Melayu memilih penyangak sebagai pemimpin.”

With a wafer-thin majority and a motion of no confidence against Muhyiddin on the cards, many remain skeptical of Muhyiddin’s chances as he could go down the history books as having the most shortlived tenure as PM in Malaysia.

However, the ongoing development in Kedah and the one-day Parliament sitting on May 18 with only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s speech on the agenda will work in Muhyiddin’s favour.

Muhyiddin’s real test, is whether he will be able to garner enough votes to enable him to announce Budget 2021 later in the year. And that is also when unemployment rates are expected to peak as more businesses suffer the repercussions of the Movement Control Order and the Covid-19 pandemic and food security becomes an issue.

On Nov 26 last year, the Pakatan Harapan government suffered a scare after the 2020 Budget for the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry was almost rejected as the opposition MPs claimed to have more numbers than PH during the voting.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof called for a voice vote. However, some opposition MPs insisted they wanted bloc voting en route to rejecting the ministry’s budget for the following year.

Bloc voting was carried out and several PH MPs were seen quickly entering the House, much to the displeasure of the opposition MPs. Following the voting, 32 MPs were in favour of the ministry’s budget while 28 were against it.

While the cracks within PH were evident throughout its stint in Putrajaya, it’s no rosy affair in Perikatan Nasional either.

Umno has been accommodating to Muhyiddin but not Bersatu. Umno has repeatedly said it would welcome Muhyiddin back to the party – which some say may not be a bad idea as the party is financially better off than Bersatu and still has a strong base at the grassroots.

Like it or not, Umno remains the only party in the country that has a grooming system. And thanks to its strategic partnership with PAS, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional had won a series of recent by-elections.

Several Umno members have been offered chairmanships in government-linked companies which have huge annual turnovers and their monthly wages are more than that of ministers

But returning to Umno could backfire for Muhyiddin who was booted out following his vocal stand against former boss Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib and Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are not exactly the most likeable personalities in the country at the moment. Even certain Umno members agree both Najib and Ahmad Zahidi should just keep mum and sort out their court cases before dreaming of running the country.

Nevertheless, these two leaders are eager to stay relevant. And in that score, Najib seems to have a slight upper hand.

Several politicians quipped that the man (Najib) who caused the downfall of Barisan Nasional and flushed down its legacy at the 14th GE in 2018 is now doing better public relations than the entire Umno and Barisan Nasional machinery.

In fact, Najib’s social media presence has been “so good” that some PH ministers, had during their time in office, expressed concern each time he mentioned them in a tweet or Facebook posting.

After all, it’s always easy to “troll” when you are in the opposition thanks to the luxury of time.

PAS, on the other hand, is contented with Kelantan, Terengganu and now Kedah. Any federal position would be a bonus, but not a necessity as long as the federal government is a friendly party that would not slash funding to its states.

The partnership with Umno is described as a “master stroke” for PAS as it now has another state in hand (Kedah).

As uncertainty rules, Perikatan Nasional is seen as a fragile government.

However, the Covid-19 episode has given Muhyiddin and his team of many misfits some breathing space. It has also boosted the PM’s popularity.

Labelled as leader of the backdoor government with hashtags of #NotMyPM still making their rounds, Muhyiddin had during the announcement of the economic stimulus package in March said: “This government may not be the government that you voted for. But I want all of you to know that this government cares for you.”

That pacified certain quarters. Also, his down-to-earth explanations during the special addresses seem to have won some hearts. Any move to topple Muhyiddin now may backfire.

It must be reminded again that Muhyiddin was brave enough to confront Najib about the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fiasco, which was the only news synonymous with Malaysia at one time.

History reminds us about UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill – the man who led the allies to victory in World War II but was crushed by the Labour Party at the July 1945 general election.

During his election campaign tours right after WWII, the people were cheering a war leader and not a party leader.

Labour’s economic and social reforms were more enticing for the nation that was eager to change its fortunes economically rather than reward Churchill’s achievement.

And just like the Britons then, Malaysians now aren’t interested in the “achievements” of their elected representatives, if any. In fact, respect for politicians has diminished in recent times and they have only themselves to blame.

The chaotic “Pengkhianat-Babi” uproar between Kota Laksamana assemblyman Low Chee Leong and his former DAP party colleague Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee during the one-day Melaka state assembly on Monday says it all.

Malaysians want to know if their lives will ever go back to normal, if they will have jobs, if they will be able to service their loans once the moratorium ends and if they are able to feed their families.

The fear is real. Time will tell if our politicians will have the willpower to do what is right for the rakyat – and not for self-interest.

As a friend said: “What’s more important now is how every MP can help this ailing nation heal its economy. There’s a time to fight for power, but that time isn’t now. Heal this nation first, and then look to healing your self-inflicted wounds.”

If all things fail, Malaysians must be given the right to return to the ballot box.