As Muhyiddin’s critics swell in Umno, analysts question how much longer Perikatan rule can last

In the past week, discontent against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has been swelling within Umno.  — Bernama pic
In the past week, discontent against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has been swelling within Umno. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 19 — Speculation that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s hold on power is diminishing has been gaining momentum in recent weeks as Umno warlords push their leaders to disassociate the party from the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

In the past week, discontent against Muhyiddin has been swelling within Umno. One veteran lawmaker has backed calls for a no-confidence motion to be tabled against the PM when Parliament reconvenes in two more weeks. 

On the back of this is a letter circulating on social media over the weekend that mentioned Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi purporting Umno’s full support for Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar to replace Muhyiddin.

While the party leadership has rejected it as fake, certain Umno leaders have felt compelled to publicly disassociate themselves from the letter that rather than snuff speculation, only served to fan rumours about the discord within the party and within the ruling PN.

“With an outpouring of dissatisfaction expressed by Umno against PN, in particular Bersatu, speculations that Muhyiddin’s government has lost its majority appears credible,” political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid told Malay Mail.

The Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) professor said this clamour within Umno is “the writing on the wall” for Muhyiddin. He added that a short-lived reign for PN was not surprising.

“The only question for political observers was ‘when’,” he said.

To Ahmad Fauzi, the PN had been hastily cobbled together out of a desire to oust the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and that it had accomplished that goal. 

The academic said Umno president Zahid and his PKR counterpart Anwar may now be on opposing sides politically, but noted the two had been close associates in the past.

Ahmad Fauzi suggested the possibility of an “eventual patching up of differences” between Zahid and Anwar if only for the sake of removing what they perceive to be a weak and ineffective government.

He also said Bersatu’s dismissive treatment of Umno on a host of issues for the past six months stoked the resentment, resulting in clashes between the two Malay parties.

“The grudge developed is fatal for PN, I would think,” Ahmad Fauzi added. 

Political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said Bersatu’s dismissive treatment of Umno on a host of issues for the past six months stoked the resentment, resulting in clashes between the two Malay parties. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said Bersatu’s dismissive treatment of Umno on a host of issues for the past six months stoked the resentment, resulting in clashes between the two Malay parties. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

He alluded to the times when Muhyiddin appointed those deemed favourable to him or his party Bersatu instead of Umno for high-ranking positions in government or government-linked companies.

Umno members had been very vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction with the appointment of Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor as Sabah chief minister despite their party’s dominant role during campaigning for the September state election. 

The dissatisfaction at not being rewarded for what they saw as their political contribution to consolidating PN’s power had been building since Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu was retained as Perak mentri besar after Bersatu opted out of PH.

Ahmad Fauzi said that to voters, Muhyiddin and Bersatu’s “betrayal” of PH is another point of contention and was another “grudge” that could diminish support for the incumbents.

“But the best option for the bloc determined to depose Muhyiddin would still be to prove it in Parliament,” he said, referring to the no-confidence motions that several MPs are trying to resurrect in the November sitting of the Dewan Rakyat.

Ahmad Fauzi added that should Muhyiddin fail the no-confidence motion, he should take the moral high ground and relinquish his post voluntarily.

“He should be magnanimous enough to concede defeat and advise the Agong to oversee a peaceful transfer of power instead of dissolving Parliament and forcing general elections amidst the still raging Covid-19 pandemic,” the USM lecturer said. 

Universiti Malaya (UM) associate professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the recent clamour for a no-confidence motion revived by Umno’s Gua Musang MP Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was representative of a large portion of the party members.

“He is at the end of the day the chairman of Umno’s advisory board. So his voice represents those on the board and not to forget the grassroots. 

“It isn’t too much to say that Muhyiddin’s majority is very slim now,” Awang Azman told Malay Mail

He added that PN’s chances of survival were further diminished after the government chose against extending the financial moratorium when it ended last month, suggesting that it was the only policy that kept Muhyiddin’s administration afloat.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said the game may not be over just yet for Muhyiddin or the PN administration.

He said the current government could still survive depending on Muhyiddin’s moves in the near future, adding that the Bersatu president will have now have to “earn” Umno’s support.

“PN’s chances of survival depend very much on how Muhyiddin approaches Umno’s demands,” he said. 

UTM’s geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said Muhyiddin’s survival and the continuation of the PN government was a separate issue from whether or not Anwar would be the next prime minister.  — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
UTM’s geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said Muhyiddin’s survival and the continuation of the PN government was a separate issue from whether or not Anwar would be the next prime minister. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The Anwar factor

UM’s Awang Azman said Anwar’s claims of having enough numbers to form a new government should not be downplayed. 

“Their chances don’t look good, especially with Anwar’s claims that he has numbers,” he said of the PN government.

“Something is brewing on Anwar’s end, otherwise he won’t make an announcement if he has nothing to prove,” he added.

UTM’s Azmi said Muhyiddin’s survival and the continuation of the PN government was a separate issue from whether or not Anwar would be the next prime minister. 

“As I see it, PN survival does not depend on Anwar’s next move, but more on what is Umno’s game plan,” he said.

He added that the current government’s blunders over the last three weeks in handling the third wave of the Covid-19 contagion has affected its public standing.

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