Politics in pandemic


  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 22 Mar 2020

DOES politics take a break during the Covid-19 outbreak?

Yes and no, according to two political analysts who I WhatsApp-ed instead of meeting them for a coffee because of the movement control order (MCO).

Yes, to some extent, according to Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, who heads the Institute of Ethnic Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

He noted that Pakatan Harapan couldn’t have its roadshow to rally public support after losing power to Perikatan Nasional. Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he said, could not have clandestine meetings at the Al Bukhary Foundation.

“So, all is left to smartphones and social media. Public announcement open to the PN government only. The public political space is reduced. But public digital space remains open as usual, ” he said.

Yes, too, contended Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali.

The Covid-19 “pause” on politics has allowed Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin government to organise itself, he said: “If they can overcome this public health ‘war’ then their level of approval among the rakyat will go up.”

Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali noted that politics has slowed down on the surface as ceramah and political gatherings are now not allowed. But, on social media, it seems to be politics as usual.

“For example, we hear certain groups blaming the previous government for not doing enough to contain the pandemic in the first place while some politicians are criticising how the Muhyiddin government is handling the MCO, ” he said.

From my WhatsApp chats with political contacts, it is still politics as usual for some politicians.

There are Opposition politicians who are scheming to get the Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan Harapan/Upko assemblymen in Sabah to jump so that they could collapse the state government.

With Covid-19, the Sarawak polls might not be as soon as expected. However, Sarawak politicians are busy manoeuvring. There is a newly independent MP negotiating to buy a Sarawak political party. There is a Gabungan Parti Sarawak MP who wanted to make a big announcement last Sunday but he had to cancel it because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

With some politicians pressing the pause button on politicking because of Covid-19, what are the potential political fights that have been put on hold until the MCO is lifted?

“The canvassing for a no-confidence vote against PN government is stopped on track because of the ‘lockdown’. But nothing can stop the digital conduit. It stopped the most effective campaign which is face-to-face, ” observed Shamsul Amri.

“Mahathir is suspected to have contracted Covid-19 after a face-to-face meeting with a Sarawak MP. Without the lockdown, PN has already increased the number of MPs supporting them by making those on the fence as full or deputy ministers.”

But with or without the Covid-19 pandemic, it is political bickering as usual for Bersatu even though its party polls have been postponed. On Friday, its president Muhyiddin sacked his secretary-general Datuk Marzuki Yahya, who is aligned to Dr Mahathir. The Bersatu chairman said Marzuki’s sacking was illegal.

On Monday, nominations for the Bersatu polls closed.

Dr Mahathir won the chairman post unopposed. Party president Muhyiddin faces two contenders including his deputy president and Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir and an unknown Mohd Faiz Azli Sham.

The Deputy President’s post sees three candidates – Marzuki (Team Mahathir), Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu (Team Muhyiddin) and Anas Akashah Nazri from Ampang

“It looks like Bersatu is heading toward an internal crisis with the presidential contest between Muhyiddin and Mukhriz, ” said Muhammad Asri.

“Which group has the number is very difficult to say at this stage. But we know that many original members (who joined Bersatu before GE14) are not satisfied with new members who jumped from Umno after PH formed the government. As the eighth PM, Muhyiddin has many advantages on how to soften the resistant from party grassroots.”

After the MCO, will pent up politics get more intense?

“Since Muhyiddin never mentioned his government as ‘Perikatan Nasional’, some quarter sees this is a government of MPs. In other words, this is a very fragile government, it maybe cannot last longer than the previous PH government. When Umno and PAS suddenly put on the break (for many reasons) then we will see this government will crumble, ” Muhammad Asri said.

Muhammad Asri also said some quarter (especially the liberal and western educated middle class) cannot accept that this ‘His Majesty’ choice of government and not the rakyat’s choice.

“This movement can be seen through #pm8isnotourchoice, etc. So, politics is going to be intense in the future, ” he said.

“Maybe it would take longer to rewind unless Umno and DAP restart their religion and politics silat. PAS may join before Ramadan starts on April 24, ” said Shamsul Amri, who added, “Ramadan, just like Covid-19, may have a pause effect.”

For most rakyat, the less politicians play politics, the better for the country facing a big challenge in the time of Covid-19.

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