Challenges remain as new govt takes shape

Several political observers are expecting more tests ahead for Muhyiddin, including the prospect of a vote of no confidence in Parliament


AFTER a week of political tailspin and uncertainties, along with dramatic twists and sub-plots that could easily be turned into a movie, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister (PM) yesterday.

“With great power comes great responsibility”, and Muhyiddin’s appointment certainly sets the stage for a new wave of challenges as he’s faced with the task to reestablish an old status quo amid fears of an economic fallout.

While Muhyiddin’s appointment as PM by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong over the weekend might have capped a week of power play among the ruling elite, no one could really hypothesise the actual direction of the new government.

While expectations are on the formation of a pro-ethnic Malay government, given the strong support shown by Umno and PAS lawmakers for his candidacy, it will unlikely be a simple task for Muhyiddin who is also wrestling to keep his own party together.

Several political observers are expecting more tests ahead for Muhyiddin, including the appointment of Cabinet members and the prospect of a vote of no confidence in Parliament in the short term.

The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) takes a look at some of these immediate challenges in store.

The Question of Legitimacy

While Muhyiddin’s appointment as PM has the royal consent, it also requires legitimacy from the Dewan Rakyat in accordance with Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution.

Former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now leading the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Opposition camp, has asked for an urgent sitting of Parliament to see if Muhyiddin commanded majority support.

The first sitting this year, scheduled for March 9, however, may be pushed back.

Political analyst Prof Dr Hoo Ke Ping said Muhyiddin, as PM, could delay the sitting by up to six months.

“What we can expect Muhyiddin to do now is to form a Cabinet that will then be approved by the King. From there, he can continue to run the government after appointing his ministers for six months before Parliament is called,” the analyst told TMR when contacted.

By then, if a vote of no confidence is carried out, which could prove Muhyiddin’s lack of majority support from MPs, a snap election can be called.

However, University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute honorary research associate Prof Dr Bridget Welsh said Muhyiddin’s legitimacy as PM might also face further scrutiny if he decides to delay Parliament.

“I think Muhyiddin’s mandate already has come very thin, and some people are questioning those numbers altogether.

“It has come through a process that has been highly elitist. If you close down other avenues of Parliament, I think this will provoke and widen the elite conflict in the society,” Welsh said.

She said it is also very important to keep in mind that whoever forms the government, it would still be a very weak administration without the legitimacy of the parliamentary mandate.

“I think this sends signals to the business and international communities which do not help the country,” she added.

Forming a Stable Govt

Welsh said further challenges could be expected in the appointment of Cabinet members, as most parties in Perikatan Nasional would see themselves as kingmakers.

“The first is position, and I mentioned this, who will hold the position of deputy PM? Will it be someone from Sabah, PAS…? Will it be more than one position?

“I think this is a challenge because you’re holding a whole series of actors who will expect something — so we may see a larger Cabinet. It is going to be a challenge to make sure that these parties are relatively satisfied.

“Umno and PAS have not worked well as a coalition so cohesively. I think, in particular, Umno is going to have a harder time adjusting to being second fiddle,” she said.

Welsh said it is also important to recognise that Muhyiddin has survived cancer which brings the issue of succession.

“Having survived cancer, Muhyiddin also has questions associated with his health. He is not a young man. He has had over 40 years of experience in politics, but he is also someone who has had a very serious bout of cancer.

“So, the issue of leadership succession is going to be immediately on the minds of many people — who is going to come up if something happens to Muhyiddin,” Welsh said.

The financial markets in Malaysia are expected to continue to take hits and head southwards as uncertainty persists – pic by TMR FILE

Business and Economic Outlook

As Muhyiddin works to assemble a formidable Cabinet, financial markets in Malaysia are expected to continue to take hits and head southwards as uncertainty persists, said Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs Malaysia CEO Ali Salman.

“Based on the turbulence we saw last week, there were some significant reactions from the stock market. As we moved towards the end of the week, when Dr Mahathir announced the stimulus package, it sort of held a bit in terms of containing the uncertainties, but not as much.

“On Friday, we saw all the indices moving southwards again. I think it is a no-brainer that the immediate impact of the political uncertainty on the markets has been very negative and this comes on the backdrop of a prolonged uncertainty,” Ali said.

Meanwhile, AxiTrader Ltd chief Asia market strategist Stephen Innes said the political turmoil, as well as the ongoing global concerns on Covid-19, have created a vacuum which may see the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI falling by a significant margin at the opening today.

“I don’t think it is a great situation to be in. It creates a lot of uncertainties and we are still dealing with the negativity of Covid-19.

“I think just by looking at China’s Purchasing Managers’ Index data that was released over the weekend will give as much precedent as the political turmoil right now, and this is a worrying aspect as we open up on Monday (today),” Innes said.

As for business sentiments, Welsh said a mixed reaction could be expected.

Others may question if Muhyiddin’s government will allow for issues of governance and reform to be conducted.

“I think there is no sense of what this new government’s economic plan would be and the argument is that there is greater economic stability and vision that needs to be seen, given the fact that this is a man who doesn’t have a mandate.

“I think he has also inherited a very difficult circumstance in the sense there are limited funds and a lot of patronage demands,” she said.

Pakatan Harapan returns as Opposition

Whether or not Parliament will convene on March 9 is anyone’s guess, but when the MPs return, the new government can expect to face a much tougher Opposition.

“Given their experience in the government, they have stronger capacities to raise issues now as an Opposition than they did before. They know as insiders what happened in the first PH government, the roles that Muhyiddin and others in government played, so I think it will be interesting to see.

“I think one has to recognise that as we look forward in Malaysia, nothing is the end. Things evolve and there is fluidity in this process,” Welsh concluded.