Commentary Politics

Covid-19 a temporary respite for Muhyiddin from the politics

Muhyiddin needs to find a way to appease Umno.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

March 17, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

IT was far from a smooth transition of power but thanks to support from Umno, PAS and Sarawak’s GPS, Muhyiddin Yassin and his Pribumi Bersatu managed to agree on a coalition called Perikatan Nasional to form the new federal government.

The next big move was to name the Cabinet and immediately it could be seen that Muhyiddin had gone against convention, by giving more ministerial positions to those from his party than to Umno although the latter has the biggest representation in the Perikatan Nasional coalition. From the 31 full ministers, Pribumi Bersatu has 11 and Umno nine and of the four senior ministers, two are from the former and one from the latter.

While ordinary Malaysians will not raise a hue and cry over the exclusion of Umno president Zahid Hamidi who’s facing multiple charges for alleged corruption and gratification amongst others, Muhyiddin also left out Umno’s deputy president Mohamad Hasan, two of its three elected vice-presidents and the Youth leader. But the Wanita leader was made a minister.

Because Muhyiddin ignored Umno’s hierarchy, despite the two VPs having ministerial experience, his opening remark when announcing the Cabinet that the appointees had passed the screening by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the police led to unsavoury speculations and cast aspersions on the senior leaders excluded.

Umno stayed muted in the first few days after the Cabinet announcement but soon after the voices of discontent began to be heard

But despite the surprises, for the first few days Umno voices were muted. Then came the negative reactions, from former minister Azalina Othman Said to Mohamad and vice-president Khaled Nordin.

Another decision by Muhyiddin that Umno felt was unfair was his decision to assign responsibility to former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali to chair the Cabinet meeting in his absence. Muhyiddin decided not to appoint a deputy but giving that responsibility to Azmin makes him the unofficial number two in the government. Where federal level experience goes, Azmin is junior to many in this Cabinet, having been a minister for slightly less than two years under Mahathir’s Cabinet.

Despite the views put forward by Umno, some however feel that the party should look at the bigger picture and allow Muhyiddin to get on with the task of sorting out issues affecting the economy, which is going through a bad patch especially lately due to the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of putting undue pressure on him.

Covid-19 aside, Muhyiddin can expect some twists and turns in the next several weeks and heading to the postponed Parliament session due to start on May 18. If his former colleagues in Pakatan Harapan go ahead with a plan to try and move a no confidence vote, Muhyiddin will need all the support he can muster and without Umno, he can kiss Putrajaya goodbye. That’s how fragile his government is and right now no one can be absolutely sure if Muhyiddin has the majority support from MPs.

Covid-19 provides temporary respite for Muhyiddin

If for some other reasons there is no such vote or he has enough support to overcome such an attempt, there will be another hurdle awaiting him at the Pribumi Bersatu general meeting, postponed to after June because of Covid-19, where he is going to be challenged as president by Mukhriz Mahathir. With many Pribumi Bersatu MPs now in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet while the Mahathir Mohamad faction distances itself from Perikatan, that annual assembly is going to be one odd gathering and an uneasy one for a lot of those in a leadership position. Lose to Mukhriz and god knows how that will affect Muhyiddin as PM.

And what if the assembly adopts the position that Pribumi Bersatu will cease to be part of Perikatan? This is a possibility that cannot be discounted.

At the moment Umno will not want to be seen to be too self-serving and as a party that is pre-occupied with wanting positions in the government and under the present circumstances, will have to show good public relations and goodwill. This will give some breathing space to Muhyiddin.

In fact for the next few months, in the Covid-19 issue Muhyiddin has a temporary respite but when the worst of that is over he will need to muster all his political skills and experience in the government to appease an Umno that is not going to keep quiet for too long.

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.