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Wild, wild West of Malaysia’s political turmoil

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It looks dire for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin at the moment as it seems he is outgunned..— Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
It looks dire for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin at the moment as it seems he is outgunned..— Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

COMMENTARY, Oct 18 — If this were a cowboy movie, we could say that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s band of wagons have formed a circle as the outlaws have them surrounded.

Unfortunately for Muhyiddin, not only are his enemies “shooting” at him from the outside, he is also getting friendly fire from within his circle of wagons.

On the onset, it looks dire for the eighth prime minister at the moment as it seems he is outgunned. 

However, that may not be the case because not only are his attackers not very good with their aim but all of them want the goodies in the wagons for themselves.

At present, there seem to be four groups of attackers; one led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, another by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, followed by Umno while the last is the one led by Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

This is where this cowboy movie plot gets complicated. While they are all attacking Muhyiddin’s wagon, they are not doing it as a team. As they all shoot at the prime minister, they are also shooting at each other and in a way they are helping Muhyiddin.

As far as I can make out, this is how the gangs are divided and what their real objectives are.

Mahathir and gang

The 95-year-old has openly attacked Anwar. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The 95-year-old has openly attacked Anwar. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

He wants to get rid of Muhyiddin and until recently wanted to come back as PM No. 9 especially when Anwar seems so close to doing so. 

He is now said to be backing Tengku Razaleigh for the post because that’s the only way he can prevent his ultimate nemesis (Anwar) from becoming prime minister and also remove the present one.

The 95-year-old has openly attacked Anwar and used even “bigger guns” against him than Muhyiddin.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

It has been widely speculated that Tengku Razaleigh has gone to see the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to offer himself as the alternative prime minister candidate. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
It has been widely speculated that Tengku Razaleigh has gone to see the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to offer himself as the alternative prime minister candidate. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

The only one who has not rounded up a gang to join his attack and who has not openly said he wants to be the next PM although it has been widely speculated that he has gone to see the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to offer himself as the alternative prime minister candidate without the country having to go through a general election. 

He did the same thing — going to see the King — when Dr Mahathir resigned in February.

It is also speculated that he has the support of some of the Umno warlords although none have come forward to say so.

Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar announced on September 23 that he had obtained the support of the majority of the members of Parliament. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Anwar announced on September 23 that he had obtained the support of the majority of the members of Parliament. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

He announced on September 23 that he had obtained the support of the majority of the members of Parliament and it was his announcement that created this rush for Muhyiddin’s job. 

However, he doesn’t seem to be able to name the MPs who have switched to his side. For that matter his supposed allies in Amanah and DAP have not come out to support him as enthusiastically as expected. 

It is as if they do not believe or do not like the deals he has been making to get their support.

Anwar is supposed to have received a letter from the Umno leadership that says they now support him and the DAP is uncomfortable about this as Umno is their lifelong enemy.

They are afraid that the deal Anwar made includes giving the likes of Umno President Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Najib Razak a “get out of jail” card from the corruption charges they are facing. 

After all, their huge success in the 2018 general election was due to their anti-corruption campaign.

It seems DAP is split in two — one group willing to do anything to get back into government and the other insisting that they cannot accept any deal with Umno.

Umno

Umno are the ones who are now providing the friendly fire at Muhyiddin. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Umno are the ones who are now providing the friendly fire at Muhyiddin. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

They are the ones who are now providing the friendly fire at Muhyiddin. They were allies until the Sabah state elections in which Umno as a whole felt that Muhyiddin had “bullied” them by denying them the chief minister’s post and did not show them the “respect” they deserved as the party with the most seats in the state government.

When Muhyiddin formed his Cabinet, many in Umno expected to be given the deputy prime minister’s post but instead Muhyiddin did away with that position.

It is widely accepted that he did not accept many of the names recommended by Zahid but instead chose other Umno MPs to be ministers and deputy ministers. 

This move left out many of the senior Umno MPs collectively known as the party’s “warlords”.

As a party, they want Muhyiddin to accord them the “respect” it deserves and to appoint party leaders to “suitable” posts. According to party secretary-general Datuk Ahmad Mazlan, their demands have already been made known to Muhyiddin.

What are their demands? This is where the Umno story gets even more complicated. The party is split into at least four factions:

  • Zahid’s gang: Said to want their candidate to be made deputy prime minister and the political prosecution to be stopped. 

  • Najib’s gang: Said to want the same things as Zahid’s but differ in the choice of the DPM candidate.

  • Warlords: They want one of them to be made the DPM and to replace four of the present Umno ministers with those from among their ranks.

  • Tengku Razaleigh’s gang: Made up of those not associated with the three other factions. Officially Ku Li, as he is popularly known, is not in the plans of the other three and would not see his appointment as being that of “respect” to Umno.

Meanwhile, there are various speculations as to how Muhyiddin will handle this friendly fire.

One consensus is that Umno will get the DPM’s post in a major Cabinet reshuffle. Senior Minister of Defence Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yackob and deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Hassan are touted to be the front runners for the post. 

One or two of the present ministers would also be dropped and be replaced by some of the warlords.

Gangs

If Umno, as a united party, gets what it wants then the guns will be turned at Anwar, Dr Mahathir and even Tengku Razaleigh in support of Muhyiddin — at least until the end of the present Parliamentary term which is due to expire in 2023.

But the present cowboy movie situation only demonstrates the fragility of Muhyiddin’s government as all it takes is just two MPs from his side to cross over to collapse it. 

He has told many people privately that he wants a general election to end the current impasse but the Covid-19 pandemic would make that impossible.

However, if push comes to shove, Muhyiddin will definitely not hesitate to go and see the King to ask that Parliament be dissolved so that fresh elections can be held.

But will it resolve this cowboy situation? Not likely, as no party will win big enough to form a government and we will be back once again to the encircled band of wagons.

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