After marathon political drama, Muhyiddin remains PM, but position still vulnerable

Whether with Umno or Opposition parties, the political horse trading will continue to burden the current administration, and with a general election seemingly off the table because of the pandemic, it is looking like an impasse no matter which path Muhyiddin chooses. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Whether with Umno or Opposition parties, the political horse trading will continue to burden the current administration, and with a general election seemingly off the table because of the pandemic, it is looking like an impasse no matter which path Muhyiddin chooses. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — Umno's decision last night to continue propping up the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government is a political lifeline for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, but doubts remain as to how long his administration can last without reaching out to other political parties for support.

While Umno said last night it would seek national reconciliation, it also ruled out working with PKR or DAP to appease its base. This gives Muhyiddin little room to manoeuvre.

The threat of defections from Umno to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also remains.

For now, all political parties are likely to heed the advice of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and ensure Muhyiddin's Budget 2021, to be tabled next month, passes without incident in a bid to reverse the havoc the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought on the country’s economy.

Despite the high stakes political drama of the past few days, it is very much status quo for Muhyiddin, in that the challenges he was facing previously still loom large. With the exception that he has now been wounded by what is widely seen as a rebuke in the form of the King's refusal to declare a state of emergency.

Umno will almost certainly want to add to the pressure by continuing to push for more concessions from Muhyiddin in the form of either more seats at the table or more senior positions in Cabinet.

Malay Mail understands that Muhyiddin's camp has already reached out to some Opposition parties for support, but that too will come with its own demands.

For example, DAP senator Liew Chin Tong yesterday said that in order to secure political support from the Opposition, Muhyiddin will be expected to drop Senior Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin from the Cabinet.

Options on the table include cobbling together a new coalition or possibly a national unity government.

But all of these come with their own problems and challenges.

Whether with Umno or Opposition parties, the political horse trading will continue to burden the current administration, and with a general election seemingly off the table because of the pandemic, it is looking like an impasse no matter which path Muhyiddin chooses.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun, said forming a unity government would depend largely on the eagerness of the various party members to work together and it could end up being like an arranged marriage.

“I frankly think all cards are on the table to scramble together a majority coalition. Now that the Agong has called on all sides to unite, that can be considered as a ‘clarion call’, previous preferences of individual parties notwithstanding.

“I mean when push comes to shove, all parties would have to choose between short-term political marriages of convenience with strange political bedfellows on the one hand, and long-term possible erosion of their respective support bases due to such political unions,” Oh told Malay Mail.

“It’s like arranged marriages,” he added.

Meanwhile, political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said that a unity government should include everyone who is capable and experienced.

“As its name goes, a national unity government would preferably be represented by the most able MPs regardless of party affiliations, plus a reasonable number of apolitical experts who could be appointed as senators in order for them to become members of the executive,” the professor said.

While a unity government appears to be an ideal solution, it was also rejected outright when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad proposed the move in February just after he quit as prime minister.

For now, Muhyiddin will have to depend on short-term confidence and supply arrangements with the Opposition, while dealing with the simmering rebellion from political partner Umno to ensure the Budget is passed.

This move may find bipartisan support, as electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 has also recently urged the Opposition to agree not to vote against PN in votes of confidence or budgetary matters, while reserving the right to oppose other legislations.

But for Malaysia, political uncertainty and instability is likely here to stay in the foreseeable future.

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