Signs of a change in government in the wind?

The government could crack but no one knows how

Murray Hunter

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of negative signs for the Anwar administration. While Anwar has been fixed upon the Gaza issue, the lack of attention on pressing local issues have been counterproductive to his popularity. One only has to read comments on news portals to feel a definite change in the perception of Anwar.

Some other signs of change are discussed below:

Change of allegiance of Bersatu MPs

At the time of writing four Bersatu MPs Azizi Abu Naim (Gua Musang), Sharaili Abdul Rahman (Labuan), Zakaria Kechik (Jeli), and Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid (Kuala Kangsar) have pledged their parliamentary support for Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister. Reports indicate that an unnamed businessman has approached a number of MPs offering funds and projects to develop their constituencies, for a pledge of support of Anwar. The anti-hopping laws don’t cover this as the MPs have not quit their parties. The law cannot be activated by the way they vote.

The implications of these changes could mean that Anwar feels the need to shore up his support in parliament to maintain a two-thirds majority. Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman withdrew his support of the government a few months ago.

From the PAS perspective, Bersatu cannot be trusted to hold is ranks of MPs together. This could influence any strategic moves PAS may make in the future.

The sudden push to get more parliamentary support for Anwar puts into question how much support Anwar might really have on the floor of the Dewan Rakyat.

Effectively, through proxy government is being bought. This is not the first time this strategy has been tried.

An unsettled UMNO

There is a burning disenchantment with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as leader of UMNO. Party elections for the top two posts were circumvented earlier this year. In addition, supporters for the release of former prime minister Najib Razak are very restless.

As the same time, it is rumoured 12 to 15 current UMNO (and suspended MPs) led by Hishamuddin Hussein and former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob could withdrawal their support for the unity government, without quitting their party.

Sabah and Sarawak

During any period of political instability in the peninsula, the views and support from the East Malaysian parties is vital. Sarawak’s break with Anwar administration edicts on the use of Bahasa Malaysia in government, and Palestinian Solidarity Week indicate that Sarawak, in particular cannot be taken for granted.

Perception of TMJ on Anwar Administration

In a podcast hosted by Khairy Jamaluddin and former UMNO information chief Shahril Hamadan, the outspoken Johor Prince Tunku Ismail Ismail Sultan Ibrahim criticised Anwar as being an indecisive leader, who doesn’t have a good team.

Panic within Anwar’s inner circle

People around the Anwar administration are in a state of panic, and very uncertain about the future. Anwar is very much becoming the sole decision maker, often against the advice of trusted friends and advisors.

At the same time, there is a distinct change in the attitude of Anwar’s traditional support base. Those who once said, ‘give Anwar a chance’ are no longer saying that. There is an atmosphere of disappointment.

The scenarios from the rumour mill

Rumours are flying everywhere, from a Sheraton 2.0 about to happen, to a major fall of the government. Below are some of the possible scenarios that could play out in the coming months. One must understand, Anwar seizes opportunities, rather than formulates strategy. So, the way events occur over the next few months will have a great bearing upon any outcomes.

1. Anwar continues on to serve a full term in office

The most likely scenario is that the Anwar government serves a full term and goes to an election around 2026 or 2027. Anwar’s unpopularity will continue. The ‘unity government’ will exist only by name the next election comes and GE16 will be a free for all.

Rather than go for a reshuffle of a cabinet that is just not working, Anwar will micro-manage much more, where policy could become more ad hoc and inconsistent. Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional have little hope of holding onto government.

2. DAP leaves the unity government

There is much disappointment within the DAP about the direction the unity government is going. Only the perks of office are keeping the party in the coalition. With 40 seats, the DAP is the second largest party in the Dewan Rakyat. If not for PKR, the DAP could have held onto more seats.

The DAP has three choices. The first is to stay where it is. Consequently, the party can focus on Penang, and stay a junior partner in the ‘unity government’. Second, the DAP could leave the ‘unity coalition’ and stay independent within the Dewan Rakyat. Thirdly, the DAP could seek to join up with a new combination of parties.

3. PN take power

Muhyiddin Yassin and Hamzah Zainuddin with their legal cases coming closer are looking to develop some sort of move that would bring them back to power. As the junior partner in PN, PAS now calls the shots. The size of Bersatu is eroding through enticements.

The only way PN could take power is through a messy realignment of parties. This could even mean that UMNO splits, DAP comes across with GPS. This currently looks too difficult. The other alternative would be to force an early general election, which might be easier to do next year. Anwar has the numbers to pass the 2024 budget at this point of time.

As mentioned earlier, the most probable outcome is a full term by the Anwar government. However, any major move to erode parliamentary support for Anwar, could warrant the calling of an early election. Its most unlikely Anwar would ever advise the Agong to call an election, because he knows he cannot win it.

The recent changes of loyal of 4 Bersatu MPs changes the game. PN, particularly Bersatu will not take these defections lying down, so retaliation is to be expected. The collateral effects of Bersatu MPs shifting allegiance will be political instability, the very thing Anwar cannot afford.

This could have been a major tactical mistake.