KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 — Right from the time he unveiled his list of Cabinet ministers, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has been fighting for political stability.
Analysts polled by Malay Mail believe one power-move that could help the prime minister keep his head above water, albeit temporarily, is to agree to Umno’s demand for a deputy prime minister to be appointed from their ranks.
The current arrangement sees Muhyiddin as the head of the Cabinet with four senior ministers holding the Education, International Trade and Industry, Defence, and Works portfolios appointed as his direct subordinates, without a clear number two in government.
All four analysts were unanimous in their belief that an Umno deputy prime minister would stabilise the relationship between Umno and Perikatan Nasional (PN).
It would buy time — long enough, it is thought — for the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president to make it to the next general election.
For Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Azmi Hassan, appointing an Umno leader as his deputy would stabilise Muhyiddin’s leadership, to a degree, while also managing to appease the Umno grassroots.
“Basically the ball is at Muhyiddin’s feet... to ensure PN’s survival since Umno has already stated clearly their wishes.
“Giving the DPM post (to Umno) will at least quiet things down, except it leaves the question of whether Muhyiddin is willing to accept Umno’s proposal that its president be made the DPM, or is it up to Muhyiddin to choose who he thinks in Umno can best hold the post,” said Azmi.
Most of Umno’s dissatisfaction is said to stem from how their party leaders are absent from the ‘important’ portfolios in government like the Ministries of Finance and Home Affairs.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Associate Professor Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid agrees that the appointment of an Umno leader as the deputy prime minister would help ease tensions between the party and PN.
“The former (Umno) was grumpy and unhappy for not having a senior post, (and) now that the negotiation is working, this appointment will improve the trust between Umno and PN,” she pointed out.
Kartini said the move would also strengthen the cooperation between PN and Muafakat Nasional, the pact made up of Umno and Islamist party PAS.
“Umno was unhappy knowing that as the biggest Malay party with the most seats compared to PN, no senior minister was appointed from Umno,” she added.
Independent political analyst Prof Hoo Ke Ping said that despite Umno going public in its support for Muhyiddin, the party’s relationship with PN will remain rocky until its demands are met.
“Since there is still no DPM, that means there is still a wedge. Superficially, with a DPM, that wedge would be removed; without a DPM, it means they are still fighting.”
So who should it be?
There are a few names being floated.
There is party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, his deputy Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who is popularly known as Tok Mat, and party veteran Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Then there are the two current federal ministers: Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is also Umno vice president, and former vice president and Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
Senior fellow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun says the choice is obvious.
“I think the smart thing for Muhyiddin to do now to hang on to power is to appoint Mohamed Hasan as a senator and make him DPM.
“At the very least, this move would not threaten Muhyiddin’s position, as a senator is ineligible to be PM. In addition, it would cleverly refute Umno’s claim that its leaders are not placed in senior positions,” Oh told Malay Mail.
Kartini agrees with Oh that Tok Mat would most likely be appointed.
UTM’s Azmi predicts the fight to be between Tok Mat and Tengku Razaleigh, suggesting how Muhyiddin would select someone he can work with and who will appease the grassroots as well.
“These two Umno veterans are seen as without personal liabilities but more importantly willing to defend the party’s political beliefs,” he said.
Hoo feels that party hierarchy will still prevail and ultimately decide who among Umno’s ranks gets promoted as Muhyiddin’s deputy.
He believes the pecking order starts with Ahmad Zahid, then Tok Mat, Ismail Sabri, and finally Hishammuddin.
However, for Hoo, Muhyiddin appears not to favour appointing Ahmad Zahid as his deputy due to the Umno president’s ongoing corruption trials.