Malaysia Dateline

Muhyiddin’s post-Covid-19 dilemma

Two months after the Sheraton political coup, Muhyiddin Yassin’s government is still searching for a way forward. Faced with the world’s worst crisis in a century, he has to win public trust, even to merely justify the existence of his unelected government.

To a certain extent, the current movement control order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 outbreak has afforded Muhyiddin some breathing space. But he knows the lockdown won’t last forever.

As Parliament is now set to sit on 18th May, the political situation will gain more attention. Despite being the main beneficiary of the political coup that propelled him to the premiership, he is not exactly the most hated figure in Malaysia.

However, the rest of the cabinet is either forgotten, unknown, laughed at, or even hated so much.

International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali is now universally mocked for his role in the political coup, and right now disliked for his mishandling of the reopening of industries in the third phase of MCO.

Health Minister Adham Baba is the now the de facto laughing stock of the nation and a major liability to Muhyiddin’s administration. For each of his media appearance, the government loses three days to public ridicule.

Muhyiddin’s conundrum

Herein lies Muhyiddin’s challenge. He has to live with each and every one in his hastily-cobbled together coup coalition.

He can’t sack anyone yet, everyone in his Cabinet can easily bully him. A recent example is UMNO demanding spoils for its Sabah chapter, especially to reward the state chairman Bung Mokhtar Radin who is now being charged for corruption.

Muhyiddin is governing with either 113 or 114 seats out of 222 Parliamentary seats. Although it’s a razor thin majority, and putting aside technical explanation of our law, let’s just say that it’s not easy for Parliament to approve a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister.

But that doesn’t mean Muhyiddin can sleep soundly at night. Whether governing with 113-114 seats, the proof is not in a “no confidence vote”. It is in each of the Bills presented to the Parliament. Each Bill would be an opportunity to prove if the government still commands the majority.

Let’s take Johor as an example. The new UMNO-led state government claims to have 29 seats while Pakatan Harapan has 27 seats. The 29 includes the state assemblyman for Bukit Gambir who is Muhyiddin himself. If he can’t or doesn’t attend the assembly, the state government on that day will have 28 votes against Harapan’s 27 votes.

On voting day for the Budget, for example, if two or three assemblymen from the state government side were not happy with the Mentri Besar and decided to go on a medical leave while Pakatan Harapan had the full attendance, the government could lose its Budget.

Our Parliament works the same way. Hence, we can see how UMNO is bullying Muhyiddin when the Prime Minister is not even able to impose any disciplinary actions against his ministers who flout the laws during MCO.

Muhyiddin’s fledgling coalition

1. Bersatu

Bersatu is formed by four groups.

First, the group that joined when Bersatu was formed in 2016, such as Special Functions Minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof who has no real functions in Muhyiddin’s government, Melaka State Exco Rafiq Naizamohideen whose dream to become the Chief Minister was quashed by his new coalition partners, and former Johor Mentri Besar Sahruddin Jamal who lost everything despite being a Muhyiddin loyalist.

This group braved the UMNO attacks from 2016 till 2018, suffered personally and financially, won the mandate from the public, and now lost out and forgotten.

Second, the Mahathir supporters. No one knows how many supporters the former Prime Minister exactly has until the party election is held. The fact that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad still has supporters and sympathisers within Bersatu are sufficient to rattle Muhyiddin.

Third, the group that joined Bersatu after 2018 led by Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin with some former UMNO MPs. They are handsomely rewarded in Muhyiddin’s cabinet.

Fourth, the group that benefitted the most from ministerial rewards, i.e. Azmin Ali’s clique who left Parti Keadilan Rakyat for Bersatu to bring forth the Sheraton move. Everyone gets a ministerial appointment.

2. Umno

UMNO is not a single entity. Since the general election in 2018, no leader has full control over the party, which is split into multiple groups.

The loudest personality is former Prime Minister Najib Razak. He has the highest name recognition and support among hardcore UMNO supporters but he is toxic to middle ground Malay voters.

Yet, Najib is a survivor. Despite the heavy corruption charges against him, he is still very free to continue his role as chief troll, going after Pakatan Harapan 70% of his time while devoting the other 30% against the Muhyiddin government.

Guided by Najib’s thinking, UMNO has created a niche for itself: UMNO is together with PAS in Muafakat Nasional, only supporting Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional until the coming general election.

Another group is led by UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who doesn’t really have full control of the party. He is mostly with Najib but there were instances when they broke ranks, especially in early weeks of February 2020.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Hamzah Zainuddin and Azmin Ali are the original coup plotters and have been working tightly together across parties for some time since early 2019, if not earlier. Their common aim was and still is to deny Anwar Ibrahim the premiership. Hishammuddin claims to control between 17 and 22 UMNO MPs.

There are also Negri Sembilan’s Mohamad Hasan and Khairy Jamaluddin, Johor’s Khaled Nordin and other characters which are not exactly fitting into the above three groups.

3. Pas

Pas as a political party is solid and intact as group but severely lacks talents for national politics.

At the moment, Pas leaders are just to enjoy the spoils of office such as being appointed to GLC posts while waiting for the next general election to be called. PAS’ objectives are to dominate Kelantan and Terengganu, and to make advances in Kedah and Perlis.

4. Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)

GPS controls Sarawak and has no loyalty to anyone. The leaders are more inclined to work with former Barisan Nasional leaders whom they know well than to make friends with Pakatan Harapan leaders, some of whom such as DAP, compete with them in Sarawak politics.

Muhyiddin’s challenge

Muhyiddin’s ruling coalition consists of four groups in Bersatu, four groups in UMNO, GPS and PAS, altogether 10 factions with varying interests, at certain times collaborative and at other times competitive.

For the Prime Minister, when Covid-19 pandemic slows down, he has to worry about Malaysia’s post-MCO era.

Whether Muhyiddin could pull through by gaining control of his competitive coalition partners, it is a matter of time when the economic needs of the people and the nation will reveal the harsh realities, sooner rather than later.

Can Muhyiddin’s fledgling ruling coalition stay together? I have my doubts.