KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin emerged seemingly out of left field to become the prime minister in March after what was initially believed to be a power struggle between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in February.
Since then, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president has had to repeatedly defend the legitimacy of his administration that came to power without a single ballot cast.
Now, Muhyiddin is said to be contemplating an early general election to secure his personal mandate to continue leading the country as prime minister.
However, as his Bersatu is the fledgling within Perikatan Nasional, questions have been asked whether the informal coalition, that includes the much larger and older Umno, will support him to remain in the role should it win the general election.
According to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Kartini Aboo Talib, the answer is a qualified yes.
“At this moment, having a snap poll would lead to a total victory for PN because of the organised and well-managed manner the Muhyiddin administration went about handling Covid-19, the economic stimulus package, the serenity of ethnic relations, and the initiative to reestablish the National Unity and Integration Department — which was formed in 1970 and dissolved in 1974 and changed from a ministry to department — which was a smart move to manage diversity.
“If there is a new name to lead the PN, the new person has to be the one that receives the most support by the people, committee members of parties alliance, and endorsed by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. It is not as simple as just naming the candidate,” the professor told Malay Mail.
Recently, the Tokyo-based Nikkei Asian Review published a report citing anonymous sources claiming Muhyiddin was eyeing a March 2021 general election to legitimise his role as prime minister.
While neither PN or the deposed Pakatan Harapan (PH) have publicly proved their claimed level of support among federal lawmakers, it was believed that Muhyiddin’s support was now just four more than the 112 seats needed for a simple majority in Parliament.
The sources said it was untenable to continue governing with such a slim majority, hence Muhyiddin’s desire to consolidate his coalition’s hold through a general election.
Should PN win this, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Azmi Hassan believes Muhyiddin would return as the prime minister notwithstanding his party’s size compared to allies in PN or possible aspirants such as Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.
Azmin is portrayed as the mastermind behind the so-called “Sheraton Move” that allowed PN to take over the federal government unelected.
He was appointed one of the four senior ministers in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet, but appears to hold the position of the de facto deputy prime minister.
“Muhyiddin is very acceptable as PN leader and also prime minister compared to Azmin,” Azmi said.
“I believe PN and all its component parties will stand behind Muhyiddin come GE15. I don't see Azmin as the prime minister-designate for PN since it will provide PH with extra ammunition to attack PN.
“If seat allocations can be settled by PN members, I'm confident that PN will be intact as it is today and Muhyiddin will be its leader,” the professor added.
At the moment, PN’s chances appear to be improving. The collaboration between PH and Dr Mahathir’s faction of Bersatu are said to be fraying over the coalition’s pick to be the prime minister.
Sources told Malay Mail that Dr Mahathir and Anwar have stopped communicating directly over the disagreement, and were only trading messages through intermediaries.
Despite PN’s apparent chances at victory, however, not all were convinced this would result in a second term for Muhyiddin.
According to Prof Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Bersatu’s allies in PN would seize the opportunity to claim the position of prime minister for themselves.
Ahmad Fauzi said this was compounded by the fact that Umno and PAS were more likely to be responsible for any PN victory in the general election instead of Muhyiddin’s Bersatu.
“Why would PN stick with a Bersatu PM?” Ahmad Fauzi said.
“The prime ministership was given to Muhyiddin as goodwill for having initiated the move that toppled the PH government. A Bersatu prime minister will outlive its usefulness by the time the next GE arrives.
“The next PM candidate for PN will more likely come from Umno as the largest party in the coalition.”
Technically, Umno can lay claim to every prime minister of Malaysia, even from the PH administration before and the PN government now. Dr Mahathir was the Umno president until 2003 while Muhyiddin was the deputy president of the party until 2016.