Can Muhyiddin survive Johor elections?

Bersatu leader Muhyiddin Yassin may be caught between a rock and a hard place if elections are called in Johor, analysts say.

(FMT) – Senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) Azmi Hassan said Umno is pushing for elections in the state to test Muhyiddin’s strength and support in what was once considered Barisan Nasional’s (BN) stronghold.

“One of the main reasons is to finish off Bersatu and put Muhyiddin in an awkward position during GE15 (the upcoming general election).

“That is why Umno is pushing for the state polls,” he told FMT.

Azmi Hassan.

Azmi said elections in Johor, which could take place just after Chinese New Year, would provide a stern test for Bersatu.

“They will either drown or give Muhyiddin a political boost. His political career could be decided by the results,” he said.

Muhyiddin, 75, was the Johor menteri besar from 1986 to 1995.

In 2008, as the Pagoh MP, he contested and won the Umno deputy president’s post, and the following year, was appointed the deputy prime minister under Najib Razak.

However, he was dropped from the post in 2015 for being vocal and critical of the government and party over the 1MDB scandal.

Muhyiddin left Umno with several other leaders in 2016 and formed Bersatu, which became part of Pakatan Harapan (PH), which swept into power in the 2018 general election.

He became the prime minister after PH fell in February 2020 following the Sheraton Move, but was ousted 17 months later after losing support, making him the shortest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.

Last month, Johor menteri besar Hasni Mohammad said the BN-led state assembly was considering snap elections after it was left with only a one-seat majority following the death of Bersatu’s Kempas assemblyman, Osman Sapian.

Kenneth Cheng.

Analyst Kenneth Cheng said Umno may be planning a tactical move to decimate Bersatu in Johor. “Umno’s move may be to humiliate Bersatu before GE15 is held,” he told FMT.

During GE14, he said, PH wanted Bersatu to contest as many parliamentary and state seats as possible to strengthen the newly minted party as it felt the opposition had an excellent chance of winning the then Umno stronghold.

Now, Umno is confident of winning back some of the state seats won by Bersatu, he said.

“Muhyiddin is in a dilemma,” Cheng said. “He will be ridiculed if he chooses not to contest, but he will face humiliation if Bersatu does poorly as the state is now seen as his stronghold.”

Due to that, he said, even though Johor BN could still run the state with a one-seat advantage, Umno would want to “hurt” Bersatu as much as it could before the general election was held.

Sivamurugan Pandian.

Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) said the stakes would be high for BN and Bersatu if state elections were held as both would try to “run down each other as much as they can”.

However, he said, there were those in Bersatu and PAS who may want to revisit their working relationship with Umno and avoid clashing in state elections.

Sivamurugan also said the elections, if held, would be an “acid test” for Muhyiddin’s Gambir state seat.

“It (Gambir) has been his stronghold and if the polls are held, they would reveal if he still has local support,” he said.