Is the noose tightening around Muhyiddin’s neck?

Murray Hunter

Anwar’s move to destroy Perikatan Nasional

Rumors are rife in Kuala Lumpur over possible legal action against former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leader in the wake of leaks, apparently from someone in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or possibly Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government, of allegedly incriminating information about unexplained funds within his coalition’s bank accounts.

Such an arrest would shake Malaysia’s political structure to its core, making it doubtful it would occur, political analysts say. Although Muhyiddin’s party is widely assumed to have profiteered during the Covid-19 crisis, an arrest prior to looming state elections in June and July would almost certainly backfire on Anwar in a polarized country with a Malay majority suspicious of ethnic minorities, the sources say. The multi-ethnic and moderate Pakatan Harapan coalition government is perceived to be flailing, with Anwar himself seen to be using his position to leverage against Bersatu and PAS with an eye on the upcoming polls. The government, which took power in late November, is perceived as embroiled in accusations of nepotism, witch hunts, and lack of depth in managing the country.

Spending during the emergency decree

Anwar, at a press conference last month said that portions of RM600 billion (US138.6 billion) that Muhyiddin himself claimed to have been spent on Covid-19 relief programs had been misappropriated. RM90 million was alleged to have been passed onto the Islamic Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) by Bersatu.

In early January, the MACC reportedly arrested a company CEO who was also a Bersatu division chief, alleging the unnamed individual touted government pandemic relief contracts to companies for commissions and demanded a share of profits during the time of the Covid-19 emergency decree in 2020 and 2021. One such contract identified by the MACC was to National Integrated Immigration System (NIISe). It was alleged that RM 4.5 billion ended up in the Perikatan Nasional coalition’s war chest for the November 19 general election.

Under the emergency decree, Muhyiddin as prime minister was given power to act outside the purview of normal government protocols, supposedly without going through the finance ministry and attorney general’s chambers.

Over the past couple of weeks, two Bersatu bank accounts were reported to have been frozen by the MACC over allegations that Bersatu received contributions from 10 contractors who gained various projects. Although the MACC allegedly suspected RM300 million was involved, the balance of Bersatu’s bank accounts was only RM 40 million. The effect of the MACC freezing Bersatu’s bank accounts amplified public perceptions either of Muhyiddin’s wrongdoing or Anwar’s use of the agency to go after his political opponent. This news only became public a day or so before Anwar’s post-cabinet meeting press conference.

Don’t let a corruption scandal go to waste

Anwar has been accused by some of being on a political vendetta against an allegedly corrupt Muhyiddin, with his Machiavellian side coming out and with an eye on the coming state elections. Some see Anwar taking a ‘golden opportunity’ to destroy the opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition. PN is primarily composed of Bersatu and PAS, which is led by Abdul Hadi Awang, which together won 74 seats in the federal parliament, with PAS being the largest party with 43 seats. The United Malays National Organization was routed from its traditional strongholds in the Malay heartlands by PN. PN even took a number of seats from PKR in semi-urban areas. One casualty was Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah, who lost her seat to PAS in Permatang Puah, held by a member of her family since 1992. Pakatan Harapan won only 84 seats but put together a government with the help of UMNO and the Sarawak-based GPS.

After the general election, Muhyiddin tried to put a government together, having been given the first chance, and looked ready to become prime minister in a coalition with UMNO and GPS from Sarawak. UMNO led by its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi pulled out of the PN coalition arrangement at the last minute, leaving Muhyiddin high and dry. UMNO, joining with Pakatan, enabled Anwar to become prime minister.

The state elections are vital

In a few months Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang, Selangor, and Negri Sembilan, three of them predominantly rural, Malay-dominated states, are due to have state elections. Gains by Perikatan Nasional at the recent federal election, labeled the ‘green wave’ for its Islamic coloration, if repeated would do great damage to the PH-BN coalition. If voting goes the same way during the forthcoming state, Pakatan and BN would only be able to hold Penang and Selangor. UMNO would lose many seats across the states, as would Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

There is evidence that Anwar’s move has been planned for months. The chief commissioner of the MACC, Azam Baki gave Anwar a number of files just after he became prime minister, according to well-connected sources. If it can be presumed that Covid-19 corruption was the subject of these files, this is a long-planned assault upon Muhyiddin and the opposition PN.

If Anwar could deal a knockout blow, this could potentially bring a new era in Malaysian politics. Casting as much doubt as possible over the integrity of Muhyiddin and PN would destroy the electoral momentum of PN. Insiders say, Pakatan want to rehabilitate UMNO and assist the party to regain its traditional strongholds within the Malay heartlands to displace Bersatu and PAS outside of Kelantan. Success would enable PH-BN to become the ‘natural government’ of Malaysia for years to come.

In Malaysia, nothing can be presumed to be reality until it actually happens. More rumors are circulating that Anwar and Muhyiddin held a secret meeting in Bangkok over the last couple of days to negotiate a truce. MACC investigations are believed to be advanced at this time, with a source saying action may be taken as early as next week.

It’s not certain if such as meeting really occurred. We will only know the reality after it happens.