It has been a year since Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin took office. One year on, he’s struggling to shake off the “backdoor government” label. But what’s the verdict on his premiership thus far?
An honest assessment needs to be based on his track record over the past 12 months. In other words, what are the tangible results that he has achieved? What are the areas that his administration needs to improve upon? Too often, the “report card” of high-profile political offices tend to be clouded by prejudices.
In assessing Muhyiddin, one must take into account the twin crises that coincided with his premiership: the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.
Did the Muhyiddin administration handle the pandemic well? Until about September last year, Malaysia was an exemplary nation in containing the outbreak. The World Health Organization representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore Dr Ying-Ru Lo was quoted as saying that Malaysia had been an excellent case study of managing the pandemic.
Our experience in handling the Nipah outbreak in the late 1990s certainly helped. The government on March 18 last year swiftly imposed the movement control order that saw the number of new Covid-19 cases plumet.
The euphoria did not last for long. The Sabah election in September last year resulted in a spike in cases owing to poor adherence to Covid-19 SOPs. This, and the explosion in cases involving dormitories of foreign workers and prisons saw our daily cases hover between 3,000 and 5,000 daily, pushing our healthcare capacity to breaking point.
To stem the rise, the government introduced MCO 2.0 on Jan 13. This time, the government wisened up. Instead of a strict lockdown, it allowed more economic sectors to operate, giving a lifeline to many businesses that would have otherwise folded.
On the one hand, the new Covid-19 cases started to decline, albeit more slowly than before, but businesses were kept afloat. It was a “lives vs livelihood” tightrope that the government tread with care, without toppling over and sending the nation into a tailspin.
As for the economy, our GDP for the fourth quarter of last year contracted by 3.4%, better than projections by the International Monetary Fund (-5.8%), the World Bank (-5.8%) and the Asian Development Bank (-6.0%).
The government’s swift decision to introduce four economic stimulus packages amounting to RM305 billion – or 20% of the GDP – is estimated to have contributed four percentage points to the economic growth for 2020. The packages include Penjana, Prihatin, Permai and Budget 2021 – the latter the largest the country has ever seen.
The aid, whether wage subsidy for employers to retain jobs or cash for taxi and ride-hailing drivers, incentives for SMEs or loan moratorium for borrowers, helped cushion the impact of the economic fallout, travel restrictions and loss in businesses Covid-19 had brought about.
All in all, Muhyiddin has done a fair job trying to contain the Covid-19 outbreak and mitigating its economic fallout. Even more advanced countries like the US, UK and Italy fared worse in managing Covid-19 despite the huge resources at their disposal.
To his credit, Muhyiddin did not fall into the trap of engaging in political rhetoric despite the incessant snipping at him by his political enemies like Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim and Ahmad Zahid Hamidid.
At a time when the lives and livelihoods of its people are at stake, the last thing the public wants is for their political leaders to be busy playing power games. For that, we ought to give Muhyiddin credit where credit is due.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.