16
May
20

Is Muhyiddin coming or going?


(Illustration: Huy Truong, Source: SCMP)

As Mahathir plots, Muhyiddin faces a twist in Malaysia’s Shakespearean drama

It is hard to predict what will leap out to historians as particularly egregious in years to come when they review the internecine political battles that have gripped Malaysia for the past few months.

If the squabbles had ended in March, the shock ousting that month of the 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister by his own party would clearly stand out in any historical timeline.

The tussle saw Muhyiddin Yassin – among the dozens of politicians groomed by Mahathir in his seven-decade career – succeed him as the country’s leader under the aegis of a new Perikatan Nasional alliance led by Malay nationalists the duo had defeated in 2018’s watershed polls.

The move booted out the Pakatan Harapan bloc that won that election, and extinguished with it hopes of a more progressive and multiracial approach to governance.

Muhyiddin – an ardent Malay nationalist – triggered the political earthquake after he pulled the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) he co-founded with Mahathir out of Pakatan Harapan over supposedly intractable differences with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Even with such head-spinning events already having taken place in the first five months of the year, political insiders who spoke to This Week in Asia last week said the turmoil was likely to intensify in the medium term – with few signs of an entente among warring camps.

Some of the insiders suggested the Shakespearean political drama would continue for as long as senior politicians warring for years while constantly switching alliances remained in the picture.

Mahathir, for one, has signalled that he is not done even after the unceremonious manner in which he lost power in March, with the king appointing Muhyiddin after determining that Mahathir had lost the confidence of parliament.

Also on his side of the ring is his son Mukhriz Mahathir – the chief minister of Kedah state – as well as the former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who may soon be sacked by the PPBM.

Having initially distanced himself from his on-off ally Anwar Ibrahim – the de facto leader of Pakatan Harapan – after being ousted, Mahathir has now realigned himself with the younger politician with the aim of bringing a quick end to the tenure of Muhyiddin’s Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional alliance.

On the other side of the ring, Perikatan Nasional is battling to prove its legitimacy amid charges from critics of being a “back door” administration.

Muhyiddin was sworn in by the king on March 1 on the premise that his new bloc commanded a simple majority in parliament, though experts last week said their independent counts showed he did not have such support. Among these observers were Francis Hutchinson and Kevin Zhang of Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

In a commentary published on Thursday, the researchers wrote that the Perikatan Nasional alliance – which includes the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) ousted in 2018’s elections – now holds 110 seats, two shy of the 112 it needs for a simple majority in the 222-seat legislature. Perikatan Nasional might be able to command a “narrow and unstable majority” if it could gain support from at least two of five non-aligned MPs.

The governing alliance has a separate internal headache, with PPBM’s Muhyiddin seen as beholden to Umno – the coalition’s biggest component even though he is the prime minister.

Pakatan Harapan and its allied party Warisan – which together won 121 seats in the 2018 elections – currently have 107 seats, according to the two researchers.

Mahathir had sought to test Muhyiddin’s support with a no-confidence vote on Monday, but the administration blocked the move, saying it would only hold an extended legislative session in July when the Covid-19 situation improves.

For now, Monday’s session will only have one order of business: the king’s customary opening address. Mahathir’s immediate response was that the whole affair of a single-day sitting with no debates allowed showed that Muhyiddin and his government were “illegitimate”.

…more
As Mahathir plots, Muhyiddin faces a twist in Malaysia’s Shakespearean drama
Tashny Sukumaran and Bhavan Jaipragas
16 May, 2020 – SCMP


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