One year on, PM Muhyiddin can do better

Exactly a year ago, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin became the eighth Prime Minister of Malaysia albeit in an unconventional way.

The government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad fell 22 months after the Pakatan Harapan coalition won the historic 2018 general election, and Muhyiddin assumed power.

Just as Malaysians were trying to make sense of the unprecedented political situation, Muhyiddin was forced to impose the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Life pretty much came to a standstill. Many are still reeling from the subsequent lockdowns and economic downturn.

While his critics were unhappy in the manner in which Muhyiddin came into power, some Malaysians started warming up to their new prime minister. The swift responses and series of stimulus packages to a certain extent, comforted the people who were already in great pain mentally, emotionally and financially. The ‘Abah’ talk worked – during the early days, that is.

In just 12 months, the situation changed. Criticism of Muhyiddin intensified, more often due to the doings of his ministers and those who surround him. His televised speeches and the “Abah” reference have been too frequent, thus losing their appeal.

Malaysians vented their frustration over the double standards of the authorities. Some ministers did not self-quarantine when they were supposed to, failed to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) and issued nauseating statements that only fuelled anger. They were not penalised for their actions. The rakyat was slapped with compounds instead.

Even civil servants are tired of being asked to defend their “bosses” who are at fault on so many fronts. The lack of coordination and communication between government agencies is evident – the recent launches of blueprints (National Unity Blueprint and Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint) seem to be isolated initiatives as the buy-in from the other ministries and agencies was almost non-existent.

There is also talk of a looming general election as instability continues to trouble Muhyiddin whose Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia does not enjoy the majority in Parliament. Calls for Muhyiddin to step down have also intensified.

If not Muhyiddin, who else is capable of steering the ship?

Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been convicted and is embroiled in other court cases while Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has 47 charges hovering over him. They have to clear their names before thinking of returning to power – that too if the people can accept them.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been clamouring for the top post for over two decades but to no avail. Having spent time behind bars over sodomy charges, the former deputy prime minister seems to be the guy no one wants to invite to the party.

And Dr Mahathir had his opportunity as the fourth and seventh prime minister. Efforts to make the 95-year-old PM number nine are simply stretching it.

Asked about Muhyiddin’s first year in office, senior lawyer Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos said: “I suppose Muhyiddin’s first significant contribution is that he quickly formed Perikatan Nasional and hence stabilised the government to confront the Covid-19 issue.

“As early as January there were already concerns that Malaysia was not taking immediate action because the country was too concerned with politicking!”

An academician admitted Muhyiddin is probably the most controversial prime minister Malaysia ever had due to how he came to power.

“He came into power during difficult times … he has to deal with the pandemic and the political uncertainty. It’s a double whammy,” said Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk.

“Despite the difficult period, he has navigated the country quite well. The number of Covid-19 deaths is below 2,000 and our accumulated cases are around 300,000. That is a major accomplishment, although some may beg to differ.”

Critics argued the Covid-19 cases in the country could have been suppressed even further if not for the Sabah elections in September.

“But there is a price to pay for how we are handling the pandemic as the economy is in the doldrums. The political crisis is also hovering and having been in office for the past one year, the PM remains in troubled waters, politically speaking. It’s a dilemma he has been facing since March 1, 2020,” said Azeem.

Muhyiddin currently has a razor-thin majority in Parliament.

“The most important thing he needs to bear in mind is how to regain the confidence of the people if he wants to remain in office. This is quite tricky as I don’t think we are in a position to face a general election right now as this would be foolish and we need to wait until Covid-19 settles.”

To move forward, a leader – Muhyiddin or anyone else – must enjoy a clear mandate. But everything seems unclear at the moment as even the relationship between Bersatu and Umno has somewhat gone south. Yet, Umno has several members holding senior positions in the Cabinet.

The political situation in Malaysia is extremely fragmented and this does not augur well for the country and its people.

Azeem pointed out that Muhyiddin is probably the least tainted person to lead the country at the moment.

“He left Umno because he did not agree with Najib. He was kicked out of Umno for standing up on the 1Malaysia Development Bhd issue. This is a plus point for him,” he said.

There have been pockets of success over the past 12 months. There are also areas where Muhyiddin and his team could have done way better.

The spending must be for the people. The government must take into account the interests of business owners as they help generate income for the people and nation.

The political appointments within government-linked companies must stop as there are many professionals out there who can do a better job.

It’s not exactly the anniversary Muhyiddin should be proud of. He can do better.

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