Why many believe they were better off under Muhyiddin

Muhyiddin and his Perikatan Nasional coalition don’t have to do anything to win

Murray Hunter

Taxi drivers, coffee shop gossip, and WhatsApp messages are beginning to question their wellbeing under the Anwar government. Some are now saying they were better off under Muhyiddin government, which lasted only 17 months between March 2020 and August 2021.

This is certainly not because Muhyiddin Yassin was a great prime minister. There are still many unanswered questions about what went on during the Covid emergency. Muhyiddin himself is subject to criminal charges over abuse of power, and corruption over that period.

The growing sentiment that times under Muhyiddin were better than Anwar’s government, are based in a perceptive opinion, that people were financially better off during the Muhyiddin government.

This is partially true. People are feeling the loss of their purchasing power, compared to the Muhyiddin times. There is a dramatic increase in relative poverty, as corporations are making bumper profits. The cost of living is rising, particularly with staples like food. Electricity costs are increasing, and the recent Bank Negara Malaysia interest rate hike is straining family budgets and small businesses even more.

While people are suffering, the Anwar administration’s self-pronounced crusade against corruption hasn’t won over much peoples’ support. In fact, the sceptical are seeing it as political persecution of Pakatan Harapan’s opponents. Raids on shops selling rainbow-coloured Swatches, the return of the ‘Allah’ controversy, and more political appointees to GLCs are signalling to many that the Madani government, now a term of ridicule, is no different from governments before it. The appointment of UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as deputy prime minister of the ‘unity government’, who is still facing charges of corruption, still appears hypocritical to many.

The Zahid issue hangs on the legs of the Madani Albatross.

The greatest failing of the Anwar government is not any of the above. The greatest failure of the government is the failure to address the pending economic crisis, that appears like a dark cloud on the horizon for Malaysia. Exports are falling. Expect domestic demand to be hit hard during the second and third quarters.

The government has shown no empathy for those whose incomes are shrinking from a collapsing Ringgit, inflation, and stagnant wages. The fact that so many families are just struggling to survive is just treated too lightly by members of the cabinet, who are just enjoying the attention and perks of office.

Today in Malaysia public debt stands at RM 1.08 trillion, or 60.4 percent of GDP. The first Madani budget has added to the nation’s woes by introducing a massive RM 94.6 billion budget deficit. There is a lot of waste in the expenditure, and the budget is not just adding to the debt problem, but probably fanning inflation as well.

The Ringgit has fallen back to 1998 levels, at RM 4.603 to the US dollar. This is far beyond the RM 3.80 peg to the US Dollar, Mahathir set in 1998. This requires immediate action, which will mean BNM raising interest rates once again, causing even more suffering to the people.

Youth unemployment is now 11.76 percent. How can the Madani coalition expect their vote in the coming state elections, if they are suffering?

The big issue facing the government’s credibility is that many Malaysians feel the poor are being left behind. This is the Madani government’s Achilles heel, that could be bitten hard in the coming state elections. The psychology behind the feelings of the Rakyat was that they didn’t feel like this under Muhyiddin.

The perception people were better off under Muhyiddin, will become a major factor in the coming state elections.

No one in the Madani government has told the people how the government is going to solve their problems. This is going to cost the popularity of the government to the point that the government could become unstable, as some politicians begin to feel they are on a losing ship.

Muhyiddin and his Perikatan Nasional coalition don’t have to do anything to win. People vote out governments, they don’t vote in new governments. The lack of empathy towards the Rakyat by the Madani government, has re-established the credibility of Bersatu, by default. Thus, potentially Bersatu and its partner PAS will take-out most UMNO seats in the coming state elections. PN will fill the void of an ailing UMNO. The more seats UMNO are allocated, the more candidates will lose.

The Madani government strategists must realize that they are not fighting PN. They are not fighting a ‘greenwave’. The Madani government is actually fighting against its own shadow of failure, that people are worse off than before. This potentially puts Selangor, the jewel in Pakatan’s crown at risk.

The Madani government must radically change its strategy, otherwise the Rakyat will more firmly believe the perception they were better off under Muhyiddin, and vote accordingly.