Thursday, April 22, 2021

Rise of ‘underdog’ Muhyiddin puts to rest debate on ‘Mahathir or Anwar’, says analyst

With the opposition in disarray, the prime minister's brand may just work in the next polls.

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One of the biggest achievements of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin after assuming the top post on the back of a power vacuum was to put to end a long and divisive debate on the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, an analyst on Asean politics says.

Adib Zalkapli said Muhyiddin had brought some level of political stability after being catapulted into a position with which he was never associated.

He said Muhyiddin also came at a time when the country was in need of strong leadership in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic which had begun to spread worldwide, and that his constant televised appearances during the first phase of the movement control order (MCO) had helped allay public anxiety.

“It was very reassuring for a lot of people who were worried by the uncertainties caused by the MCO.

“At the same time it also ended any concern that people might have had that Malaysia was being led by a lame duck prime minister,” Adib, of consultancy group BowerGroupAsia, told business station BFM today.

He said in contrast, Muhyiddin’s predecessor had to face constant calls about the date of his retirement and the promised handover to Anwar.

Under an agreement by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, Mahathir was to make way for the PKR president. The handover however did not take place in the 22 months of PH rule.

“Questions were asked after one year, partly because the coalition put him (Mahathir) in a difficult position as a temporary prime minister, so he had difficulty projecting his brand,” said Adib on the troubles faced by Mahathir.

Muhyiddin marked his first year in office yesterday since managing to gather rival politicians in a new coalition following the collapse of the PH government in February 2020.

In a recent interview, Muhyiddin fought off claims that his government lacks legitimacy, saying he has enough support from MPs to remain in power.

Adib said Muhyiddin still enjoys the privilege of incumbency ahead of the much anticipated general election.

But he warned that the experience of 2018 showed that this could not ensure one would remain in power, referring to Najib Razak’s defeat to a “relatively young” PH.

“The prime minister’s brand is only as good as his opponents’ weaknesses. As long as the opposition does not regroup and try to offer a stronger alternative, I think the incumbency will help a lot,” he said, adding that it also depends on Muhyiddin strengthening his present coalition into a credible brand in the next polls.

Adib meanwhile said Muhyiddin had managed to reconcile the realities of occupying the top office with his past statements when he was in Umno.

He referred to a frequent criticism about Muhyiddin’s statement that he was a “Malay first”, a remark which he made as a deputy prime minister in 2010.

Adib said the statement should be seen in the right context.

“He was the number two in Umno at that time, with the Umno president as the prime minister. Obviously the prime minister cannot be seen to favour a certain race too much. So somebody else had to play the role as the party idologue.

“In Umno, naturally that responsibility will fall in the lap of the number two who is not the prime minister.”

He said political reality in Malaysia demands that parties make compromises on their ideologies.

He added that Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy system ensured that the government of the day would be steered towards the centre without leaning to any extremes, as the ruling bloc would be in constant need of support from MPs across the divide.

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