Guided tour of Malaysian politics 2020

JANUARY 2 — Day one at work for the year with tea in mug, the temptation to check the local news grows. Another year of drama ahead for all readers. But here’s what you really need to know.

No second coming for Najib Razak as PM

That’s not to mean he’d go to jail, though. His spin doctors play up his credentials and motorbike-riding skills. And even without them, he’d retain the Pekan seat in the next general election.

What if he gets disqualified due to corruption cases? It took almost six years (2008-2014) to complete the Anwar Ibrahim sodomy trial and incarceration, and the Najib defence team will stretch proceedings past the next polling date.

A Barisan Nasional (BN) victory will likely reverse his legal complications.

While Umno sees Najib as an electoral, it has ceased to look to him for leadership. It’s not the trials, it’s that he lost federal government. Even his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein has distanced himself from him.

They’d use him for what he is worth, lift him up as a statesman if they form government and leave it at that.

“Tun” Najib when BN returns to power.

Mahathir won’t love Anwar

Anwar Ibrahim’s ascension won’t happen with the assistance of Mahathir Mohamad. It’s the worst kept secret in Malaysian politics.

That’s not to say Anwar won’t succeed Mahathir as PM, but just to emphasise Anwar would have to make his own luck. The work he needs to complete is self-evident: secure PKR control, draw DAP and Amanah support, charm Sarawak’s independent coalition and Sabah’s Warisan, and tire Mahathir into retirement.

Can he do it?

Well, Mahathir won’t help Anwar tick any of these boxes.

The sluggishness of Parliament’s lower house, not the least the constant loss of quorum, casts a shadow on Anwar. 

He’s accepted the challenge to revitalise the legislative process and lead change from the chamber, after he became Port Dickson MP in 2018. 

But so far, the performance has been flat. He was more integral in his time as leader of the Opposition.

The latest sex-linked accusation against Anwar might grow in importance after the Chinese New Year festivities.

2019 was not a year of advance for Anwar, and it can be more of the same this year.

Pakatan Harapan continues to stumble

Without a grip on the civil service, with a mortal fear of the Muslim right-wing and the persistent speculations on the majority count for Anwar in Dewan Rakyat, populism would outpace policy advances.

When under attack, governments tend to forget policies and throw goodies to the masses.

Suffice to say, this is not a bold government when it comes to leading.

The latest fiasco where minister after minister disclose they did not notice what they’d agreed to in their weekly meeting circa the slash on government doctors’ allowances suggests incompetence.

What makes it worse is the multiple number of people commenting on the issue, rather than leaving it to the health minister and the prime minister.

And instances of ministers trespassing on other ministers’ territories have become too common.

Cabinet reshuffle

Mahathir’s procrastination probably ends in February.

Some additions and repositioning unpopular ministers will give the impression the prime minister is listening to criticisms and buy some time to push on with the second half of Pakatan’s term.

Former Umno man and MITI minister Mustapa Mohamed probably gets back into Cabinet to add experience to the pack. The PM might axe Minister P. Waytha Moorthy in order to curry favour from the Malay right-wing.

Sarawak has only one minister and should double its count. Especially when compared to Sabah’s Warisan’s three.

Sarawak showdown

The Sarawak coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) should hold state polls while Pakatan continues to flounder. State PKR chief Baru Bian has divided support inside the party at the state and federal level. 

DAP, form the second half of Pakatan’s strength there but have limited reach in rural areas.

The current state government would fancy its chances in 2020 rather than wait the following year where fortunes may shift.

As blighted as Pakatan is, there’s never been a better chance for them to win the state. Federal control means Pakatan can mitigate to a high degree GPS’ state machinery.

GPS is set to campaign on Sarawak as an autonomous state away from nefarious Malaya’s hands. While completely unoriginal, it’s substantially better than what Pakatan offers.

Mahathir, the internationalist

Malaysia hosts APEC for 2020, with summit after summit till November. We had the KL Summit in December to offer a platform to discuss Muslim problems without Saudi Arabia. 

Mahathir tries to place Malaysia in a trinity with Pakistan and Turkey to lead Muslims worldwide. Presumptuous, of course, but that never stops Mahathir.

Mahathir wants to lift his global value, as his legacy, which means Malaysia becomes more forthright with its views.

It also offers a shield from local problems.

There’ll be much activity on this front, not the least the repetition Mahathir is the first national leader to host APEC twice. A busy APEC year might let Malaysia live off the adrenaline of international attention throughout 2020.

Equation unaltered: Unemployment and foreign workers

Jobs, or the lack of them, might decide who’ll form the next government.

While businesses seek to continue the low wage foreign workers model, for instance in manufacturing, plantation, F&B and hospitality, the scarcity of jobs for locals has turned critical.

The introduction of higher minimum wage in 57 urban localities still fails to answer the question of over-reliance on foreigners.

There has been no real discussion on what mix or policy is necessary to ensure prioritisation of Malaysian workers.

And it’s not just about wages to employers, for they seem to hold the consensus foreign workers deliver better value to them.

The immigration department does it best to traumatise overstayers in the detention camps, but the real issue is not implementation. The government appears to have no grip on the matter.

But this is one of the central issues to impact Malaysian voters and the economy.

A freer generation becomes louder

It’s a change not aggregated but discussed in isolation.

From dating app Sugarbook to artists shedding the tudung, there’s a generation of young Malaysians doing it the way they want to. Ostentatious in their private space, quiet in public but quite willing to speak up on social rights they believe they possess.

While events like the caning of lesbians and imprisonment for those consciously missing Friday prayers in the east coast suggest creeping conservatism, there are other developments across the country which indicate young Malaysians prefer freedom over control.

Consider that when reading the next story about “bolder” social choices.

or just laugh at cat videos

It has to be said, Malaysians are resilient in a completely dysfunctional way. No matter how debilitating the news from our politicians are, the general public appears to find a way to carry on. You’d expect more of this in 2020.

To almost use the madness in our politics for laughs rather than to be emotionally worn out.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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