2 March 2020
A Pyrrhic Victory for TSMY and Malaysia (Part I)
The recent tumult unprecedented in our national political history is over, or at least for the time being. One thing for certain is that it is not the end. One battle is over but the war has only just begun.
What began as the refusal of Tun Dr Mahathir (TDM) to conclusively mention a handover date to his anointed successor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) was capitalized upon by their respective two most prominent party members, TSMY (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali (DSAA) to spark a constitutional crisis to seize power. And after a week of ding dong, both TDM and DSAI found themselves out of power due to the betrayal of their respective party mates. But our piece today is not about the past. It’s about forecasting, an attempt to paint a possible scenario of the future.
Let us start with TSMY, the newly appointed 8th prime minister of Malaysia. What of him? Well first of all, he is inheriting a country which is fairly steeped in financial crisis. With a national debt approaching 1 trillion, there is not much room for him to manoeuvre. No goodies to shower upon the populace to appease everyone especially the more than 50% population who voted out BN. If anything, he has incurred their utmost wrath for grabbing power through the backdoor.
Money, likened to opium, was the standard sweetener for BN for the last 60 years, to appease the rakyat whenever they wanted to gain popular support.
The previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government through their transparent and accountability slogans had uncovered the financial mess the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government left behind. And understandably, they had to reveal that the national coffers were running dry and that tough economic measures were required to put the country back on track.
This revelation did not bode well with the rakyat used to getting cash hand-outs to cushion their fiscal woes. It was most unfortunate that the Finance Minister chosen by the PH government was from the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Although YB Lim Guan Eng and his team in the Ministry of Finance (MOF) performed admirably considering the national and global economic circumstances, the demonization of DAP by BN trollers on social media was overwhelming and he was branded as the culprit of Malaysia’s current financial woes rather than the saviour.
It goes without saying that it is deeply ingrained in the Malay psyche that DAP is anti-Malay, hence anti-Islam and therefore the task of the cybertroopoers to blame him for our economic failures was easily a walk in the park.
So can TSMY rejuvenate the economy and offer cash hand-outs to the voters as per the BN government of old? The simple answer is no. He surely cannot propose any better solutions than the ones currently practised by the PH government of which he was previously a member.
To save the country, tough fiscal measures are inevitable as is the financial game-plan in most responsible political governance, in the midst of a global economic meltdown and a looming coronavirus19 pandemic. And all eyes will be honing on the MOF for any attempts at rent-seeking, capital cronisym and all the other corrupt practices that bled the country dry.
So one can expect more of the same policies would be continued if TSMY is seriously concerned about the country’s financial health.
Bersatu’s bed fellow, UMNO, in their euphoria of governing once again after being booted out in 2018, would surely be keen to fulfil their election promises, this apart from enriching themselves, as old habits die hard.
PAS on the other hand, has declared in their 2018 election manifesto, their intention to abolish repayment to PTPTN amounting to a colossal 8 billion. They were quite vocal about PH government not fulfilling their election promises and taunting them. People living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. How can the new coalition government hope to fulfil one of their major component parties promises without losing face to the general populace?
As the ousted PH government has painfully learnt, it is not quite possible to fulfil the pie in the sky manifesto promises without virtually bankrupting the country.
One viable solution would be the reintroduction of the GST. One can expect that to come sooner rather than later. The PH manifesto team was strongly advised by some of our countrys’ eminent economists not to junk the GST but to instead zerorise it. This would leave a window of opportunity to utilise it at a later date, as they had inherited a relatively efficient GST infrastructure for collection. One however cannot say the same for GST disbursement which unfortunately had to be borne by the PH government, a thumping RM19.25 billion. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) confirmed that the previous government’s non-payment of the GST funds had caused severe financial distress to the taxpayers, which was instead utilised to finance its operating and development expenditures.
The now pandemic-like coronavirus19 outbreak, global namely China’s economic slowdown and the unstable world geo-politics presents a lethal brew to the new government.
The reintroduction of the GST, probably lower than the previous 6% is a worthwhile gamble which we think the Malaysian (read as Malay) public would go along with, allowing the predominantly Malay government much latitude and benefit of the doubt.
Yes, it has been well proven that the Malays are a forgiving and forgetful lot when it comes to the excesses of their Malay leaders. The former first lady’s Birkin bags amassed through pillaging the rakyat’s hard earned money barely earns a mention today. Even as the scandalous details of 1MDB were revealed piece by peice in the courts and the role her husband played in the role unveiled, he was instead feted and given the honorary title of “bossku” or my boss.
DAP continue to be demonized and feared beyond all reasonable doubt and the band of crooks deemed heroes simply because they were Malays. DAP are deemed anti-Malay and anti-islam but supporting corrupt Malay leaders who bankrupt the country is okay since they are brethren Malay Muslims.
This much prevalent attitude smells of crass racism (Assobiyah) but the Malays do not view or consider it as such. This despite clear injunctions from the Quran which states:
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, eventhough it be gainst yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.” (Surah An-Nisa 4:135).
From the economic point of view, TSMY unfortunately has no golden wand to uplift it’s woes. With the economy in a slow downward spiral, there is no longer DAP as a convenient scapegoat to lay all the evils and shortcomings. He needs a new narrative to explain away our economic ails.
What about the package of reforms the previous PH government introduced to improve governance, transparency, separation between executive, legislative and judiciary, tackling corruption, social reforms etc? Will they continue? We would like to think so and doubtless, in the early months of his reign, shrill voices coming from the new regime would continue to reaffirm the commitment of the new government to continue with these policies.
However, all these reforms were introduced because of the publics’ bitter experiences with the previous government and their shenanigans to maintain power. These reforms were to stop these abuses from recurring in the so-called New Malaysia era. However, the same band of politicians who committed these excesses upon which these laws and reforms were enacted are now back holding the reins of power.
Like a game of police and thieves, the thieves have now become the police. Would their commitment to reforms be at least on the same level as those who worked tirelessly to institutionalise them? It does not require rocket science to figure out this puzzle.
Since some of the prominent UMNO figures likely to play a prominent role in the new government (read as prospective ministers under TSMY), are themselves facing a slew of corruption and abuse of power charges, will it make sense for them to commit to policies which will condemn themselves to spend some considerable time resting in Sungai Buluh? The smart money would be upon acquittals or a gentle tap on the wrist. Will these lead to a reversal of reforms? This is highly likely but on the flipside they might just continue but only with a high degree of statesmanship, leadership, commitment and grass root support which TSMY does not have in abundance.
Politically what can possibly happen? The events of last week merely confirms that in Malaysian politics the impossible is possible. The next parliamentary meeting scheduled in March (although sources now say it may be postponed) may result in a vote of no confidence perhaps ending what must be the shortest reigning Malaysian prime minister in history.
However, true to the DNA of Malaysian politics, expect further shocks and surprises. A flurry of bargaining and horse-trading is taking place even now with the winner being the one who can offer the biggest cookie or toffee. Statutory declarations appear not to be worth the paper they are written on as politicians change camps as fast as they can sign their SDs. As someone remarked recently, Malaysian politicians seek mandate from the voters once every five years promising to act on the rakyat’s behalf and to uphold their trust. Once they get their license as it were, its goodbye rakyat, we can do whatever we like, support whoever we like and to hell with our promises (until the next election when suddenly they reappear with pious looks in their eyes pleading for a mandate for the next five years).
TSMY is in a rather delicate situation (though more wicked souls would term it as desperate). Bersatu, the mosquito weight party he now leads is split into two. Six MPS apparently did not sign the SDs with which he was able to persuade the King to rule in his favour. TDM, the man who led the party and placed TSMY on a pedestal in Bersatu and PH government now says he was betrayed by him. There are voices of dissension amongst the grassroots that the supreme council was not consulted in the move to form a government with UMNO and PAS. Even the status of TDM having left, persuaded to return and regain the chairman position is now declared by TSMY as not the real chairman since by virtue of his position is both party president and chairman. At one stroke, he lost the support of TDM, Mukhriz, Maszlee Malek (MM) and Syed Saddiq (SS). The 2018 electorate were appreciative of both MM and SS for their courageous and principled stand in the political imbroglio
Even in the best of times, maintaining the sustainability of Bersatu has been problematic, with multiple losses in by-elections, let alone now with the attrition of big players who were national leaders in their own right.
What of the 10 musketeers who jumped ship from PKR into Bersatu? Would they make up for the lost people now in TDM’s camp?
The short-term answer would be yes, even a welcome to his fledgling numbers. However, their loyalty will be quite suspect. These senior newcomers who worked for decades with DSAI, who earned his trust had gone rogue, stabbed him in the back and jumped ship, therefore cannot be trusted in the long run. And amongst them are those who have their eyes at the top job too.
Accommodating them amongst disgruntled followers sore at the loss of the pioneers of Bersatu’s formation and suddenly being replaced by a band of newbies who go on to assume comfy seats in the cabinet will not be a task taken lightly or in good spirits. Uniting his own party will now be an imperative for TSMY for his own long-term survival failing which he would be held to ransom by his new and larger coalition parties.
After all Bersatu, a rebel offshoot of UMNO has inherited virtually of its DNA, and accommodating others is alien to their political culture. So for short-term survival sake, DSAA and his band of renegades are welcome but would however pose long-term problems. TSMY would be wise to keep one eye on his back to avoid suffering both Anwar and TDM’s fate.
Assuming that he cannot save the unity of his own party, what are his other options? The next scenario would see him leaving Bersatu and rejoining UMNO, which is not an impossible scenario considering the events of last week. Tengku Razeleigh brought back Parti Semangat 46 after leaving UMNO following a clash with TDM so TSMY would be in good company. Jumping back into UMNO would also present another big although not impossible challenge for him. He was bred and nurtured in UMNO before and is familiar with its culture although going into UMNO with a smaller band of followers will in itself pose a challenge to exert control compared to being a big fish in small Bersatu.
Being a PM, he enjoys considerable power and leverage although being in a small and lightweight party hemmed on both sides by big brother PAS and UMNO will also pose considerable challenges to his leadership qualities. Both parties will be keen to expand their influence on the national political, social, religious and economic agenda and coming from two previously diametrically opposite political culture, clashes in opinions and emphasis will be expected.
PAS from its fundamental and ideological credentials will seek an Islamist agenda to vindicate its presence, regardless of other racial or religious objections. And UMNO with its pragmatic and ultra Malay nationalistic agenda seemingly unable to offer any modicum of nation building agenda apart from its anti-DAP rhetoric to brainwash the Malay emotions and psyche against the Chinese and in the interim launder the nation’s coffers. TSMY will be in for a rough ride trying to keep two seemingly wild stallions running along the same track and two major threats to the nation’s well being and stability, the CoronaVirus2019 and the re-emerging CronyVirus2020
Prof Dr Awaluddin Mohamed Shaharoun
Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin, Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF)