Muhyiddin has 2 weeks to shore up support, say analysts

Muhyiddin has 2 weeks to shore up support, say analysts
PRIME Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has about two weeks to consolidate his support ahead of the next Parliament session early next month, which is a crucial sitting.
 

Analysts said even after Umno announced a ceasefire and support for Perikatan Nasional (PN) while it battles the Covid-19 pandemic, it will still be an uphill task for Muhyiddin to retain majority, especially with the tabling of Budget 2021 in the coming session.

Universiti Malaya’s Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Muhyiddin needs to consolidate his razor-thin majority because despite the ceasefire, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as Umno president, has no control over all his members.

“The next sitting is in two weeks. This makes the prime minister’s position a precarious one. There are two things he can face – the tabling of a no-confidence motion, where he can be saved by the PN-appointed speaker, and the tabling of Budget 2021.

“It will take only five or six lawmakers not to attend the session, resulting in the collapse of the PN government.

“Even when Umno calls for a ceasefire, the party cannot control the actions of all their parliamentarians,” Awang Azman told The Malaysian Insight.

University of Tasmania’s professor of Asian studies James Chin said if Muhyiddin does not get the budget passed, it will signal there was no confidence in the PN government and he would have to resign immediately.

“By convention, he and his cabinet should resign immediately,” he said.

Chin, however, said he would not write off Muhyiddin yet, as the prime minister is still negotiating with other parties, other than Umno, to consolidate support.

“His only plan is to get the budget passed and stay in power. That is why he is negotiating with Umno. He is also talking to a few other people. Do not be surprised if he has the numbers.”

Umno’s ceasefire call comes amid tension between the party and Bersatu, which is riding high after the Sabah elections.

Umno is also mulling to either support or reject its political bureau’s decision on October 13 to reassess its support for PN.

After the bureau’s meeting last week, Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said the party is considering withdrawing its support and will come out with new terms.

Party insiders told The Malaysian Insight the demands include a cabinet reshuffle, in which more pertinent portfolios are given to Umno leaders and possibly, a demand for the deputy prime minister’s post.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun told The Malaysian Insight Muhyiddin could also shake things up for Umno by giving in to the party’s demands, but by empowering other factions in the party.

“Muhyiddin will need to get the budget passed. He needs to put together at least five or six lawmakers to form a workable majority. He can do that by giving a tactical advantage to Umno.

“Umno remains the largest bloc. He might give ministerial portfolios to other factions in the party. Zahid and former party president Najib Razak are the major factions.

“Muhyiddin could bypass these two in favour of Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, who has his own mini-faction. This would immediately create some sort of fracture in the party,” he said.

Temporary truce 

However, most analysts agreed the political ceasefire from Umno would be temporary in nature and the party would still be causing problems for Muhyiddin’s government in the near future.

Political scientist Wong Chin Huat said Umno and Bersatu are mirror parties and cannot exist together.

“There can be no peace between two suitors of the same love interests. Not under the winner-takes-all first-past-the-post system, at least. 

“Muhyiddin is not out of the woods. Neither is Malaysia out of the incessant power struggle,” Wong told The Malaysian Insight.

He said even if Umno’s ceasefire is compensated, the party would use this to build up resources to sabotage Bersatu eventually.

“Umno’s ceasefire is likely to be compensated with a cabinet reshuffle but Bersatu’s nightmare will not end there. Umno ministers will use their positions to fill up their war chest to take on Bersatu in the 15th general election.

“We can expect the grassroots of both parties to fight over government-linked company positions, lower-level political appointments and contracts,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Awang Azman also agreed, saying the grassroots will be unhappy working together with rivals and will be intent on attacking each other when the opportunity arises.

“This ceasefire, how long will it last? The Umno and Bersatu issue is widely discussed even though there is an apparent ceasefire. It means this is only temporary.

“It also depends on the dynamics. Sometimes even when the leaders are okay, the people on the ground, especially the grassroots, are not happy,” he said.

Seat negotiations heading into the general election are another tricky part to the truce, Wong said, and this is when Umno will come out fighting tooth and nail.

“The core issue is whether the 15 parliamentary seats Bersatu took from Umno should be returned, and there cannot be a win-win situation.

“If Umno has its way, Bersatu may win fewer than 20 seats and soon become extinct,” he said.

Among the things that fuelled speculation was Umno’s support for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim after he claimed he had the numbers to form government.

Chin said if Umno was dead intent on supporting Muhyiddin and calling for a ceasefire amid a political crisis, then it would only mean that Anwar was played out by the party.

“The ceasefire indicates talks between Muhyiddin and Umno are going very well. They have closed an agreement. If they can get the agreement, Zahid has played Anwar.

“Anwar cannot be prime minister because he cannot get the numbers. If Muhyiddin and Umno come together, then the PKR president has been played out.

“This is quite interesting as people say Zahid is not as smart as other Umno leaders,” Wong added.