The dilemma of politics, pandemic and economy in the US and Malaysia

By Jamari Mohtar & Amanda Yeo


WHILE citizens worldwide are anticipating a better year ahead due to a year-long country’s lockdown and travel restrictions, the recent US Capitol attack on last Wednesday (Jan 6), as well as Malaysia’s ongoing political dilemma between Umno and Bersatu caused trouble to both nations.

Many citizens expressed disappointment at their country leaders who are busy fighting for their self-interests instead of taking care of their needs.

Some of them feared that this pandemic war might be never-ending due to the continuous spike of the COVID-19 cases in both the US and Malaysia.

Up to date, the US has recorded around 250,000 daily COVID-19 infections while Malaysia has recorded 2,500 COVID-19 cases on average.

Instead of finding solutions to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 infections in the US, President Donald Trump chose to demand Vice President Mike Pence and Congress to reject Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Due to his desperation in continuing the presidency, Trump mobilised a group of his hardcore supporters to storm the Capitol, breaching security and occupying parts of the building for several hours.

Trump’s arrogant behaviour not only has disrupted a joint-session of Congress to certify the vote of the Electoral College, but it also caused unnecessary casualties – five people were confirmed dead and more than 50 people were injured.

Although Trump eventually promised to have a smooth transition of power to Biden’s administration on Jan 20, the recent Capitol attack has shown to the world the US is facing a democracy crisis.

The voter demographics in the US became even more polarised, which provides enormous challenges for Biden’s administration to implement policy reforms in the next four years.

In Malaysia, while the frontliners are struggling to cope with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan who belong to the “no ministerial positions” Umno camp chose to call for a snap general election in the first quarter of 2021.

Though the current government has a narrow majority but it is not the right time for Malaysia to call for election now because of the pandemic.

Moreover, the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) is still a legitimate government formed within the ambit of the Federal Constitution.

Despite Umno leaving it to its General Assembly to decide on Jan 31 whether to cut off ties with Bersatu, political instability has set in much earlier when Kelantan Umno chief and Machang MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub decided to withdraw his support for PN and Muhyiddin as Prime Minister on last Saturday (9 Jan).

His withdrawal of support indicates the current PN government has 110 seats compared with 109 from the opposition which comprises Pakatan Harapan (PH) with 91 seats, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) with 2 seats, Warisan (8 seats) and United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO) with one seat, and seven independents including Ahmad Jazlan – a total of 109 seats.

Apart from Ahmad Jazlan, the other independents comprise four from Pejuang and one from Muda – the formation of both parties had been rejected by the Registrar of Societies (RoS) last week – and one who is the former Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

Ahmad Jazlan’s withdrawal proves to be a headache because the PN government was created among individual MPs from 12 political parties in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, with the endorsement of their respective parties.

It is strange that Umno which still endorses its MPs in PN until decision time on Jan 31 did not take any disciplinary action against Ahmad Jazlan for jumping the gun.

Due to this, many analysts are of the opinion that Umno is up to stir instability in the country by either forcing a snap election or a change in government without an election amid the country facing a spike in COVID-19 infection which will worsen the economy, and thus affecting the well-being of the rakyat and the nation.

Although Malaysia is known as a country with the lowest costs of doing business in Southeast Asia, the continuous political turmoil has prevented major tech firms to set up their regional headquarter office in Malaysia.

For instance, Apple and Samsung choose to create their production lines in Vietnam while Amazon plans to build three data centres in Indonesia’s West Java province by end of 2021 and early 2022.

Despite next generation vehicles (NxGV), automated and autonomous connected vehicle (AACV) and energy efficient vehicle (EEV) are included in Malaysia’s 2020 National Automotive Policy (NAP), many automotive manufacturers have stopped investing due to the ongoing political instability in Malaysia.

With the commitment from the Indonesian government to promote electric vehicles, Hyundai decided to move its Asia Pacific headquarters office and training centre from Malaysia to Indonesia.

Even though Grab was founded by Malaysians, the well-established start-up ecosystem in Singapore has eventually led this e-hailing service provider to move their headquarters office from Malaysia to Singapore.

While the incapability of Trump in handling the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the recent attack on the Capitol has shown to the world the US is on the edge of democracy, Dr Sukudhew (Sukhdave) Singh, former deputy governor of Bank Negara Malaysia indicated Malaysia remains a divided nation with its citizens defined by race and religion, and with differing economic and political agendas.

As a result, both the US and Malaysia failed to calibrate the right balance between politics, pandemic and economy. The ongoing political tensions have prevented both countries to manage the escalation of the COVID-19 cases and the economic livelihoods of the ordinary citizens effectively.

At the end of the day, politicians are the ones who gained the most but rakyat remain the vulnerable ones who struggled the most. – Jan 13, 2021


Jamari Mohtar and Amanda Yeo are part of the research team of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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

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