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From Malay-first to for-all-Malaysians, a tribute to Muhyiddin from a ‘non’

For someone who was once 'Malay first', he has shown us that he is Malaysian first in everything that he has done and accomplished in his 17 months.

EL Tong
4 minute read

I used to dislike Muhyiddin Yassin, a lot. It all stemmed from the time when he was asked whether he was a Malaysian first, or Malay first.

His immediate response that he was a Malay first sealed the deal for me.

As a Malaysian Chinese who is proud to be Malaysian first, I felt deeply insulted that a deputy prime minister had no qualms brandishing his ultra-Melayu-ness to us “nons” in our faces. He did not even pretend to assuage our already ingrained and deep-rooted fears that we “nons” were as good as second-class citizens.

Then 1MDB became the talk of the town. Dr Mahathir Mohamad led the charge against Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor. The movement against kleptocracy took on momentum. Bersatu was born and began dallying with Pakatan Harapan (PH). And lo and behold, the “Malay-first” Muhyiddin Yassin openly rebelled against his boss.

This caught us “nons” by surprise. The last person in Umno that we all thought would challenge Najib stepped up and hammered the final proverbial nail in Najib’s coffin. My dislike of him turned to admiration.

Fast-forward to February 2020. Mahathir resigned unexpectedly, the PH government collapsed and the nation was plunged into a political quagmire for a week.

We “nons” watched in horror as the stock market spluttered, myself in particular as the substantial amount of shares I held were yo-yoing like crazy.

Then the weekend came, on Feb 29, 2020, the leap year day, when Malaysians found out that Muhyiddin would be the new prime minister.

My friends at the golf club exchanged rumours that Muhyiddin never wanted or expected to be thrust into the premiership but at the last minute, “Old Man” was persuaded by his doting daughter to retire gracefully and secure what’s left of his tattered legacy.

Apparently that did not quite turn out to be the retirement we all had hoped for but I digress. So Muhyiddin had to step up and step in.

Honestly, I cringed. Here was a man who once described himself as Malay first, then was sacked for publicly going against his prime minister over the 1MDB scandal, then joined forces with the Old Man.

For years, this man preferred to remain in the shadows or on the periphery of the limelight, so much so that many of us knew very little of him.

And now he was our prime minister?

“Give him a chance lah and see how those balls of steel perform,” cajoled my Serani wife. She is my rock and go-to person for practical advice and so I relented. I gave Muhyiddin a chance.

Mind you, Malaysia was in the grip of a pandemic when he took over the helm of government and a lockdown was declared 18 days after he became prime minister. I am an avid CNN watcher and follow US politics closely. I love Dr Fauci. So when Muhyiddin was saying and doing all the right things that science and data and Fauci said you should do, I was mildly impressed, to say the least.

That Muhyiddin, although conservative and a tad old school in outlook, was no mad Trump who mocked science and experts, was already a big plus for me.

My comprehension of Bahasa Melayu is wanting but I understood almost everything he said when he delivered his first live televised address about the lockdown and the steps he was taking to arrest the pandemic.

He came across as a mild mannered gentleman, concerned and yet confident in what he was doing. His calm yet firm manner was assuring.

And what really mattered was that he connected with me. I felt he was speaking directly to me. That was the moment I finally thought to myself that here was a leader who cares deeply, listens to the experts and is determined to do the best for the nation.

Fast forward to last week when he went on TV again and told the nation he was not going to resign. This time the fighter in him emerged.

He vowed not give in to the demands of the kleptocrats. That was riveting and compelling. Instead, he offered a slew of far-reaching reforms that would change the political landscape of this country irrevocably.

So when news emerged over the weekend that not a single group in the fractured opposition would take up his offer of serious reforms, and that therefore, I assume, he would resign, it caught me by absolute surprise.

Here was a man who stood by his principles, weathering a pandemic pretty well, all things considered and who continued to navigate a very fine balance between saving lives and livelihoods while his opponents had only Machiavellian political manoeuvres on their minds.

How can the captain of the ship just sit out the storm mid-journey and let the mutineers and pirates take over? He needs to finish the job and sail us into safe harbour!

From March 2020 to August 2021, I have been pretty impressed with him. He has not made us feel more “non” or second class. Conversely, his various stimulus packages have actually helped us pull through.

Admittedly, there were some missteps and bloopers here, but let us not dwell on trivialities nor nit-pick. No prime minister since independence has been perfect, and Muhyiddin is no exception.

Look at the big picture. This prime minister has indeed risen to the occasion and is doing far better than what we had all expected in the beginning.

For someone who was once “Malay first”, he has shown us that he is Malaysian first in everything that he has done and accomplished in his 17 months.

As I write, the mutineers are waiting to commandeer the bridge and the pirates are alighting the ship.

Is the inept, light-eared and not very smart or astute Anwar Ibrahim making yet another run for the premiership which we all know will fail miserably like it has so many times before?

Tengku Razaleigh still harbours grandiose dreams of leading this country to an idyllic Wonderland.

We simply cannot have a Dorothy trying to traipse and hobble on the yellow brick road with tin heads whispering into one good ear.

Only God can save Malaysia if we have blundering nincompoops, pretenders, insane megalomaniacs, kleptocrat-enablers or worse still, the chief kleptocrat himself!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.