Wednesday, March 3, 2021

No deputy PM, no reshuffle as all eyes on budget

'Jinxed post' is the last thing on the PM's mind after palace's warning against destabilisation.

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A media-fuelled rumour that Muhyiddin Yassin will appoint a deputy prime minister from among Umno leaders has been confirmed as untrue.

The speculation saw reporters converging at the Umno headquarters on Wednesday until late night, many of them under the impression that the party’s Supreme Council would announce its nominee for the number two post which has been vacant since Muhyiddin was sworn into office after the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

Others had been expecting a Cabinet reshuffle, amid threats from a group of Umno leaders including its president to quit the Perikatan Nasional government.

“That’s part of a cyber game that got the press into a frenzy. The truth is, there have been no such offers (to give the DPM’s post to Umno) from the prime minister,” a source familiar with inner-circle discussions between Umno and Bersatu told MalaysiaNow.

It added that all eyes were now on the upcoming budget, the first since the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on businesses and forced the government to come up with billions of dollars in emergency rescue plans.

Speculation of a deputy PM appointment heightened at a time of tension between Muhyiddin and two Umno leaders.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor Najib Razak, who led the Barisan Nasional (BN) government before its downfall in the 2018 election, had been ratcheting up pressure on the prime minister to give more senior government posts to Umno, whose 39 MPs allowed Muhyiddin to form a new government following the collapse of PH in February.

Central to the demands is that Muhyiddin appoint a deputy prime minister, a post that in recent Malaysian political history had been keenly eyed by many ambitious politicians.

Muhyiddin himself was a deputy prime minister before he was sacked by Najib in 2015 over his criticism of the government’s handling of the 1MDB scandal.

“One doesn’t have to be superstitious to know that the post is jinxed,” quipped the same source. “But the complex structure of Malay politics is such that the No 2 post is sometimes viewed with more importance.

“There are only very few examples of a DPM becoming the PM. Either he fell out with the boss, was sacked or, in Zahid’s case, defeated,” he said, referring to Zahid’s three-year stint as Najib’s deputy before BN’s election defeat in 2018.

He added that appointing a DPM would be “a sure recipe for creating more political instability”.

“One doesn’t have to be superstitious to know that the post is jinxed.”

“And that’s going against the spirit of the royal command warning politicians not to disrupt the government’s battle against Covid-19 through destabilisation and politicking,” said the source, who earlier detailed to MalaysiaNow tense private meetings between key party leaders.

In one such meeting, Zahid had demanded that he be appointed as deputy prime minister.

But even before details of the meeting were leaked to MalaysiaNow, a group of Umno leaders had been talking about a “better deal for Umno” under the PN government, including a Cabinet reshuffle.

A late-night statement issued by Zahid, following a meeting of top Umno leaders, however put to rest the rumours, one of which claimed that the party’s Supreme Council would nominate Zahid as the sole candidate for the deputy PM’s post.

Other names that surfaced in online speculation were Hishammuddin Hussein, Annuar Musa and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, all of whom occupy key Cabinet posts.

When pressed by MalaysiaNow on what was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, several Umno leaders remained mum.

“It’s complicated,” said one of them. “I am not denying that the issue (appointment of a DPM) was discussed, but we also spoke about the channelling of more aid for the people in the face of Covid-19.”

A high-level source in Umno said there is also an emerging school of thought within the top echelons of the party that any move by Muhyiddin to appoint an Umno leader as deputy would only further split the party.

MalaysiaNow previously reported that Muhyiddin might give some form of concession to Umno, short of increasing the party’s share of Cabinet positions as demanded by Zahid and Najib.

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