Malaysia bracing for more instability

Jamari Mohtar, Astro Awani

Malaysians will have to brace themselves for more instability now that the Umno Annual General Assembly during the weekend has given its president, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the mandate to declare the timing of the total rupture with Bersatu.

If and when Ahmad Zahid makes the call, all Umno MPs will renounce their support for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, with all Umno ministers and deputy ministers resigning from the Cabinet.

Should that happen, it would signal the fall of the PN government. But will the PN government really fall? It depends. If the call is made before August, PN will still be the government.

This is where the Emergency plays a preventive role in ensuring there’s no political instability to the country so that the focus of government will always be on managing the Covid-19 pandemic along with the recovery of the economy, and in this sense, PN will be the government throughout the full duration of the Emergency.

If Umno backs out from supporting the PN government during this time, all Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has to do is to replace all the Umno Ministers, Deputy Ministers and GLCs chairmen with his own appointees that are not members of Umno.

With all the strong words that were being used at the Assembly to bash Bersatu, it’s quite strange Umno is so hesitant to specify an exit date to completely pull out of PN. Perhaps Muhyiddin should just turn the table and announce a Cabinet reshuffle with no Umno’s presence in the Cabinet.

But what happens when the rupture occurs immediately after August 1 when the Emergency has expired?

In his closing speech at the Umno annual general assembly, Zahid said: “We can pull out at anytime from the PN government if they don’t give an indication that the elections will be held soon.”

Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan is more specific in indicating the preliminary exit timeline is in August – which is when the state of emergency comes to an end.

However, both were wrong in that Muhyiddin has never said the 15th General Election (GE15) will be held before or after the Emergency is lifted. What Muhyiddin has promised is for it to be held once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

This can be subjected to three scenarios. GE15 will be held either:

1. When the daily infection number trends consistently toward a two- and one-digit figure, or;
2. The daily infection number trends consistently toward a one-digit and zero figure, or;
3. Once Malaysia has declared itself as a Covid-19-free country, presumably with zero consecutive daily infection for more than a week as happened in late February 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

We are now in the four-digit daily infection figure since December, and only today (March 29), the figure has gone down to a three-digit, 941 – the first since October 24 last year.

It will take perhaps a few months for it to trend to a two- and one digit figure, few more months to reach a one-digit and zero figure, and many months more for a consecutive zero figure to emerge for more than a week.

If the first scenario takes place three months from now, we can expect election to be in July or August; while the second scenario may take us a total of six months from now which means election is likely to be either in October or November. The last scenario could bring the election to next year or even nearer to 2023.

However, every small carelessness can erupt into a rapidly escalating fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, lengthening the above timelines further. Is our memory too short and we forgot the Sabah election and what unfold after that?

The key point is we shouldn’t even open our mouth about general election unless we have zero cases.
So, will Zahid and Umno have the patience to wait for a zero infection to materialise for more than a week?

If the answer is a no, expect the final rupture to occur at the latest, end of this year or early next year. What will happen then?

There will definitely be political instability because no political parties will have the magic number of 112. We will then see the possibility of a minority government, along with its instability where the ruling coalition will govern with less than 112 MPs supporting it.

With the withdrawal of Umno from PN, it will put Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the lead with 88 MPs, PN (77 MPs), Umno (38), Warisan Plus (9), Pejuang (4), Muda (1), Parti Sarawak Bersatu (2) and one Independent.

But does this mean we will see Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim finally manage to fulfil his coveted position of PM9?

Not necessarily. This is because a minority government is formed through much time-consuming negotiation. What if Pejuang chairman, Dr Mahathir throws the four Pejuang lot to Muhyiddin, making PN’s tally to 81? And what if Warisan Plus also has the same in mind, increasing PN’s tally to 90 which virtually clinches for Muhyiddin the PM post.

And even if this does not materialise, defections from Umno and PH to PN could be a real possibility that will put PN ahead again.

The only event that could prevent a PN government emerging is for Umno to work together with PH. But Ahmad Zahid has already declared in the Umno Assembly of Umno’s trinity – “No Bersatu, No Anwar, No DAP”.

So, the best course of action for Malaysia to avoid instability is just to wait for Muhyiddin to decide on the timing of the dissolution of parliament to make way for GE15. He has this advantage of incumbency.

At this critical juncture, it would do more good than harm for all politicians to take a political sabbatical to reflect on which is more important – the stability of the country or pursuing their ambition for power and posts, with the concomitant instability that these entail.

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