Malaysia Dateline

From Abah to “Stupid PM”: How did it go so wrong for Muhyiddin?

What a difference a year makes. The most powerful man in Malaysia who once lovingly referred to himself as “abah”, has admitted on live television that his own citizens think him stupid.

Even though Muhyiddin’s rise to power has been nothing short of controversial, there was a brief moment in time when Malaysians were willing to put political grievances aside and put their trust in Muhyiddin’s hands dutifully.

After all, during the initial stages of Covid-19, PN seemed to be in control and was even praised internationally for their efforts in containing the deadly virus. The severe three-month MCO between March and June even brought cases down to single digits.

We saw Muhyiddin’s confidence peak during the Sabah state election where he told Sabahans “We want Malaysia to move forward and be successful and the only way to be successful is to be with me,” during his speech at Pintasan, Kota Belud.

How quickly everything changed.

Muhyiddin didn’t anticipate the rise in Covid-19 infections or the massive backlash that PN would face just days after the election was over.

Research has suggested that mass gatherings during the Sabah election directly caused 70 percent of Covid-19 cases in Sabah and indirectly caused 64.4 percent of cases elsewhere in Malaysia right after the elelction.

Those who travelled from Peninsula Malaysia to vote or campaign unwittingly brought the infection back home and it spread like wildfire.

Evidence of political parties breaking Covid-19 sop while campaigning was shared swiftly on social media.

Such as the case of Mohd Razlan Rafii, an Umno council member who caused the entire Sipitang market to close after visiting the premises while infected and at times without properly wearing a mask.

Malaysians were incensed over the rise in infections and the further economic uncertainty it would bring. With higher cases, came more stringent SOPs and excessive fines being metted out by PDRM.

The SOPs weren’t a walk in the park either. The constant u-turns made it difficult to keep track of the rules. What’s more, some of them simply did not make sense.

For example, limiting the operating hours of food outlets actually created a rush of orders during closing time. Simply put, shorter operating hours meant patrons would more likely gather at the same time.

To make matters worse, it was becoming increasingly clear that while the working class in Malaysia was dealt with severely for breaching SOPs, another reality existed for the politicians and elites who didn’t need to follow the rules.

For instance, in February it was announced that ministers were permited a shortened self-isolation period of three days when returning from overseas instead of the regular 10 days quarantine.

Another example would be Deputy Federal Territories minister Datuk Seri Edmund Santhara Kumar whose 55-days leave to New Zealand was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.

In other parts of the world, even minor infractions would cause senior political figures to resign like in the case of New Zealand’s health minister who stepped down after going to the beach and breaching Covid-19 SOP during the pandemic.

Even though Muhyiddin may feel like he is reaching the point of no return in terms of public perception, with twitter having recently evolved from calling his government #kerajaangagal to #kerajaanbodoh, there may still be a way to salvage his legacy.

Let’s face it, a lot of the unwise decisions made by PN could have been easily circumvented if it was openly debated in Parliament. Parliamentary scrutiny exists to provide a “check-and-balance” to ensure Executive competence, efficiency and good governance.

However, reconvening Parliament is risky to Muhyiddin, who at this point clearly looks to have lost Parliamentary majority and may lose a vote of confidence if it is called.