A sensational political drama that has instability attached

By Jamari Mohtar, Focus Malaysia

WHEN a politician enacts a sensational drama by dropping a bombshell in pursuit of a power grab amid a backdrop of a surge in the number of Covid-19 infections while the economy is on a recovery trajectory, the political instability that it entails will have negative repercussions on the economy and the rakyat.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has declared the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has fallen in a media conference on Wednesday. Just hours later, Minister for Science and Technology Khairy Jamaluddin, coming out of a Cabinet meeting, countered all was fine and nothing has “collapsed or fallen”.

Who is right and what can we expect after this seemingly contradictory statement? In all certainty, Khairy is right because how can an opposition leader announce the fall of a government he does not lead?

It is a different matter if the prime Minister himself declared his government has fallen. But Muhyiddin has never made such a declaration. In fact, he issued a media statement in response to Anwar’s allegation, saying his PN administration is still intact.

“This claim needs to be proven through the processes and procedures determined by the Federal Constitution. Without undergoing that process, Anwar’s statement is a mere allegation.

“Until that is proven, the PN government stands firm and I am the legitimate prime minister,” Muhyiddin said, calling on the public to remain calm.

At 12.30pm on Wednesday after Anwar’s noon media conference, the Star reported Bursa Malaysia lost all its previous day’s gains as political uncertainty on the domestic front raised anxieties amid already weakened market sentiment.

The key FBM KLCI index declined 10.53 points to 1,495.25, after opening at 1,507.29, erasing the gains made in the previous session. By closing time at 5pm on Wednesday, the index posted a 9.3-point fall to close at 1,496.48, resulting in RM12.01 billion wiped  out from the market.

On the Covid-19 front, the daily infection was back to a 3-digit figure on Wednesday – 147 with three new deaths.

The pertinent question to be asked is why did Anwar choose such a challenging moment for the country to deliver his bombshell?

One reason could be he was goaded by his partner in Pakatan Harapan (PH), DAP’s Lim Guan Eng during the weekend campaigning in the Sabah election to prove that he has the numbers to take over Putrajaya, failing which both the DAP and another PH ally, Amanah would like to see Anwar making way for Sabah’s caretaker Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal to get the numbers.

Anwar was very confident in responding to the gauntlet thrown by Lim by saying he has the numbers and hence, the media conference to announce this was held yesterday.

There are analysts who said Anwar’s motivation in dropping his bombshell was a brilliant political strategy to ensure a victory for Shafie Apdal in the Sabah election but with the proviso, he can prove his claims.

Anwar was doing rather well in the Sabah election when he prevented the Warisan Plus coalition from having friendly fires with his acceptance of seven seats for his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) when he actually wanted 14 seats for PKR.

It is indeed a pity that he succumbed to Lim’s gauntlet at such a challenging time for the nation and went ahead dropping his bombshell which was not only targeted at Muhyiddin but also at Lim.

Now let us analyse his statement on where he got his support from. Anwar has support from 91 members of parliament (MPs) from PH. When he went out of his way to say “the majority of MPs supporting me are Malay and Muslim”, that could only mean Umno and Pejuang, as Bersatu is solidly behind Muhyiddin.

With Umno having 39 MPs and assuming Anwar manages to convince all these MPs to join him, that would give him a very comfortable simple majority of 130. But we know that not all Umno MPs supported Anwar although its president Zahid Hamidi has said that “many” MPs from his coalition and party have voiced support for PKR president Anwar Ibrahim to form a new government.

That means Anwar needs at least 21 Umno MPs to be on his side to form a government (112 MPs) – a tall order to achieve and even if he achieves it, it would be an unstable government just like the present one which is at least better with 116 MPs.

Moreover, with Umno being riddled with the pro-PN faction and anti-PN faction and seems to be suffering from a complacency problem that it can win a snap election by going alone without PAS and/or PN because of the so many strings of by-election victories on its sleeves, it is a sheer difficulty for Anwar to get more than 21 Umno MPs to crossover, let alone 21.

Of course, we can go on and on with the permutations by adding in the six Pejuang MPs (making it 118 MPs) and adding in Warisan’s nine MPs (127 MP – a comfortable simple majority), but all these permutations are far from the realm of reality and it’s only applicable in the realm of possibility.

Which brings in the question: Is it worth the efforts for Anwar to drop the bombshell at a power grab when the numbers he purportedly has is far from definite and certain?

And “sleeping with the enemy” – the Umno that his coalition has dubbed as kleptocrats – give us that surreal feeling that forced us to question, “Are all these happenings for real?”

Not to mention the political instability that comes along with it.

Already DAP is saying that it supported Anwar’s latest bombshell with the thought that it is the Sarawak’s coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak that Anwar has managed to pull into PH coalition – with the implication that it might just accept the non-kleptocratic Umno MPs that Anwar might have won over.

In the meantime, what happens to PM Muhyiddin? It’s business as usual as he focuses his mind on managing the Covid-19 pandemic and the recovery of the economy, and at the same time pursue vigorously the campaigning in Sabah in a state election that was unnecessary to be held in the first place as it is due to Musa Aman’s failed attempt at power grab.

Jamari Mohtar is Director of Media & Communications at EMIR Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based upon rigorous research.