Parliament’s permutations


Will there be a quick, cobra-like strike or a consolidation to hold on to power with a python’s deadly grip? And we’re not even talking about the PM.

IN the heat of Thursday’s political crisis, ordering all Members of Parliament to take a Covid-19 test was, arguably, a master stroke.

It bought embattled Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin time. He gained three days to strategise and negotiate to remain in power before Parliament was to meet again tomorrow. However, the final day of Parliament’s special five-day sitting has been postponed to a date to be announced later.

Before lunch time on Thursday, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim read out a statement in which the Yang diPertuan Agong expressed disappointment with the government’s decision to revoke six Emergency Ordinances without his consent. In the statement, the King also expressed dismay that the government did not present the revocation of the ordinances in Parliament.

The royal rebuke spurred Opposition MPs in the August house to shout “derhaka” (treason), “kurang ajar” (uncouth) and “Pagoh letak jawatan” (resign from his PM’s post aimed at Pagoh MP Muhyiddin). Some government and Opposition MPs shouted “tangguh” (adjourn).

Deputy Speaker Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon adjourned the meeting. There were four adjournments all together on Thursday, including one for the screening of all lawmakers following the detection of two Covid-19 cases in Parliament.

While MPs were not allowed to leave Parliament until their swab test results were out, Muhyiddin, key Cabinet ministers and the Attorney General gathered in the Prime Minister’s private residence in Kuala Lumpur, taking advantage of the breathing space caused by the mandatory testing.

However, Prof James Chin feels matters could have been handled better. One of the political mistakes Muhyiddin made on that day was not immediately ordering the Speaker to postpone the meeting to Monday rather than adjourn it several times, including by asking the MPs to do the Covid-19 test, said the expert on South-East Asian governance issues from the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

“If you let all the MPs hang out together in a corridor, obviously, you’re allowing them to plot against you. It would have been better to send everybody home,” he pointed out.

The Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president made another mistake in Prof Chin’s eyes by issuing a statement to rebut the King’s rebuke using legal arguments, explaining that it was a political and not a Constitutional issue.

Prof Chin argued that what the Prime Minister should have done was to remove de facto Law Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan and Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun – “That would have taken a lot of political pressure off,” he said.

Speculation that the Prime Minister was under pressure to resign went into overdrive on Thursday afternoon. But it turned out that Muhyiddin was prepared to fight.

The Prime Minister remains in power as long as Umno MPs support him.

On Wednesday, Umno’s Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah crossed from the government bench to the independent bloc. With his move, 114 MPs support Muhyiddin, while 106 MPs are against the PM. It only needs five more MPs from Umno, a coalition partner in the Perikatan Nasional government, to officially withdraw their support from Muhyiddin for the PM to lose his majority.

Despite the Umno Supreme Council deciding on July 7 to pull the plug on the party’s support for the PM, apart from Razaleigh, none of its 38 MPs have “struck like a cobra” to bring down the Perikatan government. On Thursday, Umno’s powerbroker Datuk Seri Najib Razak reiterated his stance that he supports the Perikatan government but not the PM.

A question many are asking this week is why Umno MPs have not crossed the floor. Even Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahamd Zahid Hamidi, who issued a statement on Thursday calling for party MPs to withdraw their support for Muhyiddin’s leadership, is still officially with the government.

The answer perhaps lies in the fact that Umno powerbrokers realise the Perikatan government with a minimum of 114 MPs still has the largest number of lawmakers. Because then, if they can maintain the support of these government MPs and also bring down Muhyiddin, they can push for an Umno MP to become Prime Minister.

Basically, the Perikatan government is a winners’ club. If it collapses, the MPs will be relegated to the losers’ club if the Opposition takes over.

Umno is likely to remain with the Perikatan government to exert a python’s grip on the PM to squeeze him for more concessions. Eventually, the Umno powerbrokers hope to crush their prey.

I asked Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali how the PM could hold on to power.

He suggested that Muhyiddin could do a minor Cabinet reshuffle by leaving out PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin, who Muhammad Asri said made “a fundamental error as he is not well versed in the Constitution and created a bad relationship with the palace”.

Muhammad Asri suggested that the Prime Minister could also bring in Umno warlords such as deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan or vice-presidents Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and Datuk Mahadzir Mohd Khir to reduce the pressure from Umno president Ahamd Zahid.

Prof Chin notes that the power is still in the hands of the PM: “So obviously, he will use all his advantages to collect support over the weekend before Monday’s meeting,” he said (replying to my question before news of Monday’s postponement).

The political game played by Umno powerbrokers is a plot within a plot. Observe their actions and not their words. They say they don’t support Muhyiddin and yet remain with the Perikatan government. Even within Umno, there are other powerbrokers with their own plot within a plot.

And it is not only Umno powerbrokers who are plotting; those in the Opposition are also scheming to be in power. One wants to become PM via the National Recovery Council. Another is waiting for the unity government PM post to be served up on a silver platter while yet another plans to form a government with the support of a former protégé in Umno.

According to Muhammad Asri, one fundamental question remains: Does the Opposition have enough numbers to form the government?

“It is interesting to see how they can take this new opportunity using the King’s dissatisfaction (with Muhyiddin). But the advantage to manoeuvre is still with the incumbent even though his situation is bagai telur di hujung tanduk (like an egg balanced at the end of a horn),” he said.

However, Muhammad Asri feels that with PKR president Anwar as Pakatan Harapan’s Prime Minister candidate, Pejuang pro tem chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a majority of Umno MPs will not support him.

“It is clear that at this stage, they don’t have a proper strategy. So there is nothing much we can expect to happen on the Opposition bench. They are seriously in a fragmented situation,” he said.

Malaysian politics is turning into a snake pit. Will Umno MPs strike like a cobra or grip power like a python?

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