By Julian Tan
LAST week was a busy one for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Never before has he, or any of his predecessors, launched so many major policies and programmes in quick succession.
On Feb 15, Muhyiddin launched the National Unity Blueprint 2021-2030. This was followed by the launch of the COVID-19 National Immunisation Handbook on the following day. The next day, he launched DidikTV, an educational channel to help students keep up with their studies following school closure due to the pandemic. On Feb 19, he launched Malaysia’s Digital Economy Blueprint.
Today (Feb 21), the first batch of the COVID-19 vaccines will be arriving in Malaysia with much fanfare. It is understood that the Government has planned out an elaborate publicity campaign to feed on the public excitement over the vaccination plan that will roll out on Feb 26.
It would be naive to brush off the timing of such high profile events as coincidental. The only conclusion one can draw from this series of events is that the Prime Minister’s spin doctors are building up the hype leading up to his one-year anniversary in office on March 1.
There is good reason why the country’s eighth Prime Minister wants to step up the “feel good” announcements leading to his anniversary. For one, he took over the premiership under the most controversial circumstances.
Together with lawmakers from PKR, PAS and Umno, the latter he was once sacked from, he led a putsch that saw his predecessor and one-time strongman leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad fall by the wayside.
To this day, Muhyiddin’s legitimacy is still being questioned, more so since several Umno lawmakers had earlier this year withdrawn their support towards his Government.
If not for the Emergency proclamation, Muhyiddin would have lost support in the Dewan Rakyat, which he was hanging on by a thin thread anyway.
The latest publicity blitz surrounding Muhyiddin’s policy announcements were also meant to shift public attention away from one of the Prime Minister’s most glaring missteps: his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For months, the country’s daily new COVID-19 cases were hovering between 3,500 to over 5,000 daily. Many had blamed this on the Muhyiddin administration’s half-hearted attempt to implement COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).
This includes the decision to lift inter-state travel in December and to allow many sectors deemed non-essential to operate during the movement control order (MCO 2.0). Many believe these had resulted in the spike in COVID-19 cases that stubbornly refused to go down, until very recently.
While the public may have misgivings over Muhyiddin, particularly over his legitimacy, the Prime Minister has portrayed himself as trying to get the country back on track following the pandemic.
It helps that he has not been drawn into political rhetoric that his rivals like Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are fond of indulging in. If anything, the public is already nauseated by the endless public politicking that seems to benefit only the elites and no one else.
With Muhyiddin’s first anniversary at the apex of the country’s political structure fast approaching, he naturally would want to get good grades from the electorate. If anything, he hopes it would put him in good stead of winning the general election which he promised to call once the pandemic eases.
Muhyiddin would certainly want another term in Putrajaya, this time with a mandate to call his own, and once and for all, shake off the “backdoor Prime Minister” tag that has hounded him since March 1, 2020.
But doing so would require the Prime Minister to go beyond a spurt in making policy pronouncements. Malaysians would want to see tangible positive outcomes, starting with the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. – Feb 21, 2021
Julian Tan is a Focus Malaysia editorial contributor.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.