Muhyiddin tightens grip on premiership as pandemic skyrockets

By Dominic Tham


PUBLIC anger towards Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic is unmistakable.

Sentiments of Malaysians gleaned from social media, text messaging groups and everyday conversations show mounting anger at his administration’s failure to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the climbing fatalities from the outbreak.

Any Prime Minister facing such a hostile electorate would have hit the panic button. But the Muhyiddin administration seemed the least perturbed. For example, as calls grew earlier this week for a stricter nationwide lockdown, the powerful National Security Council sat on it until Friday (May 21).

While the pandemic has caused untold misery to millions of Malaysians in terms of loss of lives, livelihoods and the health toll on the people, there’s a silver lining for the current occupants of Putrajaya.

The worsening pandemic has given the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Government justification to continue with the current Emergency, if not to extend it beyond Aug 1, when it is scheduled to end.

The spike in new coronavirus infections over the past few weeks have seen calls by opposition lawmakers to lift the suspension, fading. In general, the opposition have now grudgingly conceded that the Emergency is now a necessary evil.

The same can be said of calling for snap polls. In the past, his critics have cited countries like South Korea, the US and Singapore as examples of how elections can be held amid a global pandemic. For this reason, they say Muhyiddin should test his legitimacy at the ballot boxes, after orchestrating a political push in early 2020.

Now, such calls are unheard of, especially after last year’s Sabah election experience which saw a spike in cases due to failure to abide by COVID-19 standard operating procedure (SOP). With a poll unlikely to be called soon, Muhyiddin now has breathing space to consolidate his position amid rocky ties with his main coalition partner, Umno.

The Emergency has accorded the Government with almost unlimited power, as legislatures like the Dewan Rakyat and various state assemblies suspended. With little oversight, his Government can do as it pleases, such as dipping into the RM19.2 bil National Trust Fund (KWAN), a fund set aside for future generations.

But as Muhyiddin avails himself to his seemingly unassailable political might, the situation on the ground paints a starkly different picture. The political instability from the incessant Bersatu-Umno political crossfire as well as the economic slump from lockdowns have heightened anxiety among the business community.

While the worsening pandemic has inadvertently thrown Muhyiddin a political lifeline, the public sees no light at the end of the tunnel as the Emergency lingers, COVID-19 infections and deaths continuing to rise while international borders stay closed. – May 23, 2021


Dominic Tham is a FocusM editorial contributor.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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