Umno’s wings have been clipped

THE response from Umno to the Emergency declaration has been muted and cautious.

The war cries and sabre-rattling from the party has come to a sudden halt and the political temperature has come down.

It seems like Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has clipped the wings of Umno and put all political parties in a tight corner.

Everyone had been so swept up by rumours about the appointment of a deputy prime minister that they were almost blindsided by the Emergency move.

Umno, unlike Pakatan Harapan leaders, has not opposed the state of emergency.

“The decree comes from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Umno will abide by it but with a caveat – it must be focused on containing Covid-19.

“The people’s safety is paramount, do not deviate from that aim, ” said Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

Even Bossku or Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a vocal critic of the government, has pulled back.

His recent Facebook posts talked about the economy, jobs and foreign investments and sidestepped criticism of the Emergency.

Umno is a pro-monarchy party and no one, especially Najib who remains close to the Pahang sovereign, would want to be seen as opposing the royal decree.

But it has given opposition parties fresh bullets to aim at Muhyiddin, accusing him of using the Emergency to suspend Parliament and avoid a general election.

“It’s disappointing the government is clinging to power this way, ” said Selangor PKR Youth chief Najwan Halimi.

Democracy is a noisy process and for a while, it seemed like the cacophony of voices from Umno would bring down Muhyiddin’s government.

“Muhyiddin has survived regardless of the calls for him to go. Incumbency comes with so many tools and power at his disposal. Sometimes, you win – not because you are strong but because your enemy becomes weaker, ” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.

For the next six months or so, Muhyiddin will not be held hostage by Pakatan Harapan on one side or Umno on the other.

He has poured cold water on pressure from Umno to hold a general election.

“It will not look good for the PM if more MPs pull away but it is not going to bring down the government for now, ” said an aide to a minister.

Muhyiddin has also stalled another test of numbers in Parliament, a test that he would surely lose this time around because he is now left with only 109 out of 220 seats in Parliament (Gerik and Batu Sapi are still vacant) after two Umno MPs pulled away from the government.

The two are Machang MP Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub and Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

Some have suggested that Nazri might have done more damage to Muhyiddin had he withdrawn his support a day earlier.

It would have given critics more grounds to question Muhyiddin’s legitimacy to advise the King on an Emergency.

Muhyiddin, said lawyer Ivanpal S. Grewal, has consistently been under-estimated.

“Politically speaking, it was a masterstroke. Very few people thought he had the killer instinct, but he has gone for the jugular. Overnight, he has neutralised his critics and insulated himself from threats of a no-confidence vote.

“We see him rising to the challenge time and again. He has survived cancer, Mahathir, Anwar and Najib. He might be the great survivor, ” said Ivanpal.

A stunning takeaway from Muhyiddin when announcing the state of emergency was his pledge not to interfere in the judiciary.

He stressed that the courts would continue to function independently and it was seen as a slap-down for the “kluster mahkamah”, a reference to Umno politicians who are facing charges for corruption and money laundering.

Muhyiddin has encountered one road bump after another but he has a few things going for him.

For instance, said Ivanpal, the perception from day one was that the King is in Muhyiddin’s corner.

The King has made numerous calls for politicians to behave and to put the stability of the country ahead of politics, all of which was seen as concern for the stability of the government and country.

The sovereign has been groomed for the Kingship since young. He takes his constitutional role seriously and had asked to be briefed by the Attorney-General as well as the Chief Secretary to the Government before he consented to the Emergency.

Muhyiddin does not have a big team behind him like what Najib used to have when he was prime minister. But his team is extremely loyal and prepared to go the extra mile for him.

For some time now, there has been gossip of the “Publika group”, a loose group of ministers who help to strategise and plan for Muhyiddin.

The group, said to include Umno ministers, is helmed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin and their meetings take place at his private office complex in Publika Mall, Sri Hartamas.

They are a powerful group because they have the ears of the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, the downtime is an opportunity for all political parties to press the reset button.

“We are almost drowning in non-stop politicking since the Sheraton Move while people are losing jobs and need help. We should use this period to serve the people, strengthen our own coalition and prepare for the election, ” said Najwan, who is also Kota Anggerik assemblyman.

With the Emergency in place, Muhyiddin is now the only lion on the mountain.

Will he be able to use the next few months to solidify his position and his party before calling for election? More importantly, will the Emergency months bring the rival parties to the table to negotiate on seats or will it see the cracks between them widen to a point of no return?

The political temperature has subsided but the uncertainty remains.

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

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