Malaysia’s political purgatory

AUGUST 5 — Despite yesterday’s developments, leading to a televised address by the prime minister, Malaysia’s political debacle will likely refuse to end in September. 

Regardless, if Muhyiddin Yassin loses a parliamentary vote of confidence or not, our political mess runs deep and the hybrid solutions on display are problematic.

The funk stays.

The key talking points below reveal the nation’s unsavoury predicament.

The announcement, Parliament and statutory declarations

After #Lawan and the MPs' protest following a chaotic Dewan Rakyat last week, Muhyiddin was forced to consult his inner circle furiously over two days before relenting to a lower house vote yesterday.

But in a month’s time, only then will the MPs vote. On an unspecified day in September.

And when that happens, the reckoning might be a tad of a wet blanket.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivers his statement on the National Recovery Plan during a special Parliament sitting in Kuala Lumpur July 26, 2021. — Bernama pic
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivers his statement on the National Recovery Plan during a special Parliament sitting in Kuala Lumpur July 26, 2021. — Bernama pic

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Muhyiddin may fail to have a majority, but will another MP have a majority?

Anwar Ibrahim, Zahid Hamidi, Shafie Apdal, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Mahathir Mohamad are all in the end-Muhyiddin pact, but after that’s achieved, can they decide on who among them deserves the mandate?

No one including the presumed candidates can answer and therefore there’s a risk Parliament’s dragged back to the race for support following Mahathir’s resignation in late February 2020.

If no valid candidate emerges — possible when Anwar and Mahathir hunt for support from the same MP pool — Muhyiddin’s name gets thrown into the ring, to form an interim government.

The manner support is managed, power becomes a perpetual popularity contest played through statutory declarations (SD). A most foul way to assess actual parliamentary balance.

Constantly, provocateurs sidle up to the palace to umpire the latest set of SDs while aware the right forum is Dewan Rakyat.

These SDs bring out chicken and egg scenes.

Pointedly to the MPs, why sign and stay silent? It speaks of a greater danger.

Other than the key players with central positions in the game on both sides, say 100 MPs in total, the other 120 say YES several times to several groups — at the same time — before, now and certainly in the near future. They are the definition of shifty.

So, even if they change the government next month, what stops them from being soft with the next one? Renegotiate and renege and start all over again.

This is why  there will only be weak governments between now and the next general election.

A newish government and free-for-all parties

In pursuit of a fresh majority, to replace the Muhyiddin administration, strange bedfellows emerge. Even stranger than in the most awkward times.

With at least nine independent sides in Parliament — Umno, PKR, DAP, Amanah, Bersatu, Pejuang, Sarawak’s GPS, MUDA and Warisan — the new majority combination to replace Perikatan Nasional (PN) will likely look weird.

The process to form a new majority might further split party identity and unity. The distinct possibility of half of Umno in the new administration, and half not. What if Umno Sabah opts to stay independent to sustain its state government coalition? 

Anwar’s PKR effectively evolved into an unstructured party powered by its MPs acting more as a collective than disciplined party members. It’s rife for disruption. Bersatu was built to house victors and without a Muhyiddin leadership, their MPs are happy to pursue opportunities.

So, while these parties are sliced and diced to assist with a new majority, the public’s bafflement grows. Because they become unrecognisable and the volume of mixed messages is too much.

Further, if it’s formed, the new government has only less than two years to a general election, and increasingly in that duration they’d appear primarily hollow and self-interested.

When prime party identities are dumped to remain in power — Bersatu, Umno or PKR — they contaminate their own standing to lead others later. Malaysian voters seek an anchor party to lead a coalition as they accept the fragmented political reality. Parties like Bersatu, Umno or PKR. When they see all three of the same ilk, they struggle to differentiate.

An inconclusive election result may materialise.

Imagine, after all the bluster to reorganise the existing MPs to form a new coalition to replace the present one, while others argue about fresh elections, both splitting Malaysia’s attention — between Dewan Rakyat subterfuges to the promise of polls — for four years and neither yielding a satisfactory outcome at the end.

Oh, the madness!

It will usher a new nadir of rakyat despondency. Jading voters at a time they need to be involved.

Recycled ideas going for cheap

Those out of government have failed to present any ideas to capture the national imagination. Granted, the government’s ideas rarely cheer up the people.

By being equally flat, both cannot be told apart.

Pakatan and other pretenders say they are better than the present lot. That’s the gist. “They have an app, we have an app too.”

Not so compelling. How does the past master do it, Bossku himself?

Ex-PM Najib Razak campaigned hard last year to allow depositors premature withdrawals of their EPF funds to pay for their current expenses. Is it new? No. Is it good? Hardly. 

Those who withdraw compromise their futures, but that’s a future problem. Once PN approved the 2021 Budget, Najib campaigned on it. “I’ve worked to put more money in your wallet, today.”

This is not the best example of a policy or benefit, but it is one which is easy to understand and resonates with voters. His Blue Ocean team always keeps him one step ahead even without power, position or get-out-of-jail card.

Coming up with better policies or benefits would require boldness and honesty, as they’d invariably upset many. Which Pakatan avoids like the plague, even more than Covid-19.

But the salient lesson from the Najib approach is to present them in a simple manner to the people and drive positive public sentiment.

Often, policies work because the people affected are sold on them. Yes, that’s another chicken and egg.

While the Muhyiddin naysayers highlight the administration’s mistakes, they hardly cover themselves in glory with their own solutions for Malaysia’s present ailments.

Online commentators may point to a decided advantage for Pakatan over PN, but the average voter fails to see it. And that is Pakatan’s undoing.

Unduly undecided

So, the above underline how a stalemate forms with great effort from both sides, or all the relevant sides. Nobody comes out smelling good from this sham.

Malaysia is set to endure a leadership gap for the foreseeable future based on the characters involved.

There’s no leadership uniform among the elected representatives. They permanently negotiate — not the least their souls — and in turn compromise the institutions as much as the parties they belong to. On a stage bereft of ideas, the occupants claim “a sense of wanting to do the right thing.”

It is Merdeka month now, and with an impending vote before Malaysia Day, they’ll be out kissing babies — on virtual calls, thanks Covid-19! — and hugging flags to underline their strong convictions about the country while keeping close to their hearts their true allegiances.

It’s more skulduggery than not. Less Patrick Henry and more Khan from Star Trek.

This is not good.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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