More promises, money for MPs but has Muhyiddin Yassin lost the plot?

If it had been any other day, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would have been applauded for several of the suggestions he made during his address this evening. They included capping the prime minister’s tenure to two terms, and allowing 18-year-olds to vote.

But today is not any other day.

Muhyiddin is facing a tough time convincing the people he still commands the majority in Parliament. The image of him standing behind a phalanx of his senior ministers and key Cabinet members while delivering his speech – ostensibly to convey that he had the support he needed – was unconvincing.

The trust deficit against Perikatan Nasional (PN) has reached fever-pitch. Calls for him to quit continue to grow louder.

Muhyiddin believes no other MP has the majority support, and he could be right. But it is not for him to decide.

In fact, it is the duty of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as per Article 43 of the Federal Constitution, to appoint an MP who can command the confidence of the majority in Dewan Rakyat – like how Muhyiddin was appointed prime minister in 2020.

Today’s announcement seems to solidify the notion that Muhyiddin and his team are reactive, rather than proactive.

Such a knee-jerk reaction was seen when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong decreed, for a third time, that Parliament be reconvened. The government scrambled to hold a special sitting instead – which resulted in four days of uncertainty over the revocation of the Emergency ordinances. The special sitting ended prematurely, after Covid-19 cases were detected in the august House.

The same was seen again, when Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was named deputy prime minister – just hours before the Umno Supreme Council met on July 7. The appointment meant little as the party went ahead with its decision to withdraw support from Muhyiddin and PN.

Muhyiddin today outlined seven suggestions in a bid to extend an ‘olive branch’ to the opposition – the very same people he had turned his back on in 2020.

The catch: The suggestions will only be pushed forward if the motion for the vote of confidence is passed in Parliament.

The seven suggestions were:

1) All MPs will receive the same annual allocation to enable them to help the people during the pandemic.

2) To use “Whole of Government” and “Whole of Society” approaches in carrying out and implementing several measures, including increasing the ceiling amount of the Covid-19 Fund – from RM65 billion previously approved – to RM110 billion, strengthening the healthcare system by increasing the number of personnel and the capacity of ICU wards, and cash assistance totaling RM10 billion to be channelled to 11 million people in the second half of 2021. The financial assistance will not just benefit those in the B40 group but also the hardcore and urban poor, and those in the M40 group who had lost their jobs.

3) To amend the Federal Constitution to limit the term of the prime minister to two terms, and introduce an anti-hopping bill.

4) To strengthen parliamentary reforms by ensuring that Parliamentary Special Select Committees comprise 50 per cent government and 50 per cent opposition MPs.

5) Implement the Undi-18 initiative without waiting for automatic voter registration.

6) Parliamentary Bills will only be tabled in Parliament only if they receive majority support from MPs.

7) Opposition leaders will be accorded the status of senior ministers in recognition of the role played by the opposition.

The big question is, why now? Why wasn’t this thought about earlier?

The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse – after all, it was during the pandemic that several forgettable initiatives were launched, including the National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030.

Words like “desperate”, “stubborn” and “clutching at straws” have been used to describe Muhyiddin’s latest act.

He admitted he could resign but chose not to, “for the sake of the rakyat”. Once again, it’s not for him to decide what’s best for the rakyat. It is for the people to decide, through their representatives in Parliament.

It is clear Muhyiddin does not want to step down.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned immediately after he learnt that he no longer commanded the majority in Parliament, which resulted in the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.

Muhyiddin has invited opposition leaders to meet him next week to discuss the plan for a bipartisan government to run Malaysia.

However, some political observers say this would give credence to theories that Muhyiddin may use this ‘window’ to buy himself some time, to come to some sort of an agreement with members of the opposition, to strike a deal.

In the interest of transparency, the prime minister should let the process take its natural course, as provided for under the Federal Constitution, and hold the vote of confidence as soon as possible.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Assoc Prof Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said Muhyiddin had been cornered by the Umno MPs, who last week, withdrew their support of the government.

“The only way out is to get support from the opposition MPs. But Pakatan Harapan’s presidential council has said it wants Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be prime minister. So, what we will see is another political gridlock,” said Azeem.

“I don’t think anything will come out of the prime minister’s speech. I don’t see the opposition accepting his ‘olive branch’.

“The prime minister is now at the weakest point in his career, so they (the opposition) are going in for the kill. What Muhyiddin offered may look good on paper but the opposition has set its sights on the main prize, to take Putrajaya.”

Azeem, however, stressed that Muhyiddin is still holding the fort with the supposed 100-odd MPs believed to be behind him.

“He is actually running a minority government, and this is not wrong. It’s based on the Westminster system.”

Muhyiddin also said it was his responsibility to stop a “group of kleptocrats” from seizing control. While he did not name names, it was clear Muhyiddin was referring to his one-time colleagues Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who were facing legal suits.

Azeem said: “Those who are facing charges should not call the shots. This is not right. We cannot allow this to happen and cannot allow these people to hold the government to ransom.”