More tests ahead for Muhyiddin

TAN Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (pic) is known as a no-drama politician and he passed his first month as Prime Minister without much drama.

In fact, by most accounts, he has done quite well given that he came in amid a health pandemic as well as accusations of leading a backdoor government.

Muhyiddin has been a steady pair of hands in tackling the Covid-19 crisis and his government’s stimulus package was well-received by the common folk despite rumblings from the business sector.

“This is an unprecedented crisis but he has managed to hold the fort,” said former Perak mentri besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

His coalition of strange bedfellows also seem to be holding together and informed sources say Cabinet meetings go on much more smoothly than in the previous administration.

But there were a few embarrassing and amusing slip-ups such as the “Doraemon advisory” for those working from home and a minister donning a hazmat suit during a cleaning-up campaign.

“They should not bring the nonsense from the last government into this government,” said Penang Umno politician Azizi Safar.

Muhyiddin has also shown a Machiavellian touch in the way he formed his Cabinet.

He took religion out of the purview of PAS leaders and he gave the Umno ministers portfolios that more or less loosened their control over the Malay base. Portfolios that were directly connected to the Malay grassroots went to his own party leaders.

“You are looking at a political animal who has survived numerous ups and downs,” said a Putrajaya official.

The Covid-19 crisis has been a bane and boon for Muhyiddin. It is a tough test for his government but it has also given him some breathing space to stabilise his Perikatan Nasional coalition.

It is no secret that his team is working on the numbers, that is, a headcount of MPs, in preparation for his next big political test when Parliament sits on May 18.

There has been no official confirmation of how many MPs Muhyiddin has on his side, although the speculation is that he has the support of 114 MPs. The May sitting will provide the first concrete evidence of the strength of his coalition.

Once the numbers are confirmed, Muhyiddin will have the “passport” to go on until he decides to call for a general election.

The Opposition’s threat of a motion of no confidence in Parliament has also passed.

A no confidence motion implies an intention towards a snap election and lawyer Lee Chin Cheh said that nobody, including the Opposition side, wants to go in that direction for now.

The fact that the Prime Minister and his team has steered clear of playing the blame game has also been a welcome change.

“This is about health and saving lives. You are not going to win support playing politics,” said Dr Zambry who is also Pangkor assemblyman.

The Perikatan government has turned out more stable than expected. Some joked it is because the coalition partners have a common dislike of the DAP and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“The actual reason is that the Malays feel comfortable with the government. You can see that on social media and when you go around,” said Dr Zambry.

No government of the day can hope to be stable without the support of Malays who make up 60% of the population.

Muhyiddin’s government, which includes Bersatu, Umno and PAS, commands the support of some 85% of the Malays.

For instance, the Malay social media went into overdrive when Muhyiddin, whose father was a religious teacher, recited a doa or prayer in Arabic in his recent TV telecast.

Apparently, it was the first time a Prime Minister had prayed this way on TV.

The fact that his wife Puan Sri Noorainee Abdul Rahman wears a tudung – the first time the wife of a prime minister has done so – was also a big deal for the community.

Muhyiddin has not stepped on any landmines. But his biggest challenge will be the economy which is heading into a recession and job losses.

He has shown resolve in tackling the Covid-19 crisis and he is more than adept in juggling the politics surrounding his government.

“The next big test will be to steer the country through the economic hard times,” said Dr Zambry.

In the meantime, there is the Mahathir factor to overcome.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has eased off on his political attacks. The statesman and the doctor in him has seen him rally to support the movement control order.

But efforts to reconcile the two Bersatu big guns have failed and the informed opinion is that Dr Mahathir is waiting for an opportune time to strike.

Dr Mahathir has won the Bersatu chairman’s post unopposed and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir is challenging Muhyiddin for the presidency in party elections due after June.

Muhyiddin has been treading carefully around the elder man. He has not touched Dr Mahathir’s home state of Kedah which is still under Pakatan Harapan even though the numbers have shifted.

There is no pressure for Mukhriz to vacate the Kedah Mentri Besar’s post and there was even talk that Muhyiddin had offered Mukhriz the deputy prime minister’s post earlier on.

Muhyiddin does not want to give Dr Mahathir more reason to get upset, he wants Dr Mahathir on his side.

Muhyiddin has done well in his first month but more tests to his leadership lie ahead.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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