AS it stands now, with 15 Umno MPs having sent in letters to the king that they no longer support Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, it is clear that the prime minister has lost his majority in Parliament.
If Muhyiddin can’t make up the numbers, he will eventually have to go. He can only delay the inevitable for a while more; both king and people are getting restive and impatient.
The important question is: who will take over after Muhyiddin? Below’s our list, in no particular order, with our assessment of the person and his fitness for the job. Although conventional wisdom at the moment seems to dictate a candidate from Umno, that’s not absolutely necessary.
Apologies for including Muhyiddin in a list of those after him, but there’s a chance he may yet survive. Please take the chances with a generous pinch of salt. The flavour may not be to your liking.
1. Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – gangster, facing criminal charges
It’s curious that he appears to suggest that he should be prime minister. Really, he’s facing multiple criminal charges as the whole country knows. His closeness to Malay gangs, especially Tiga Line, is well known. He has openly called them “orang kita”.
Can he handle Covid-19? Most certainly not. His intellectual capacity is probably lower than Muhyiddin. As with all Umno-type top politicians, they feel they know better about everything than everyone else, even the medical people. The other thing is doing good does not matter – politics is above all.
His chances are very low. Remember, 15 MPs do not a prime minister make – unless you are Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and have hoodwinked an entire nation yet again. Not so soon, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, you don’t have the credentials. He has no stature to be even a compromise candidate. Chances: less than 5%.
2. Datuk Seri Najib Razak – 1MDB architect and convicted criminal
Surely not him of all people, although his PR is smooth and sensible. He knows when to counter this government by saying the right things at the right time. But we can’t forgive him, can we, for what he did at 1MDB: the borrowing and the subsequent pillage of borrowed funds. Why, you could write a book about it, and indeed I did – 1MDB: The Scandal that Brought Down a Government. He has even less chance than Zahid.
Opinion is divided over whether a conviction automatically disqualifies him, but if he is a choice, it’s likely to be hugely unpopular. Remember, the only reason only a third of Malays voted Umno in the last elections – it has never been less than 50% before – was because of 1MDB and his role in losing as much as RM50 billion for the nation, more if you include opportunity costs. Chances: less than 2%.
3. Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob – an opportunistic moment
A paucity of good leaders saw his fortunes catapulted to the top, especially with the other Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali sidelined as his popularity plummeted for compound reasons. Notice Azmin’s name is not on this list. Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the accidental deputy prime minister, may become prime minister simply because he is in the right position at the right time.
If anything happens to the ailing prime minister, he automatically ascends to the top position. He has received tonnes of free publicity as the face of major Covid-19 announcements when the prime minister in absentia left it to him to make them. If Muhyiddin is unable to continue, Ismail Sabri steps up into his shoes and may well remain until the 15th general election (GE15). It takes 1-2 years before criminal incompetence and corruption start to show up. His chances: up to 10%.
4. Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – old stalwart, the compromise candidate
His chances of becoming prime minister were thwarted when Dr Mahathir supported Tun Musa Hitam for Umno deputy president aeons ago. An aging Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, 84, is hoping that his last chance will materialise.
He may well be a good choice as interim prime minister until GE15. He has the experience and background, and perhaps even the ability. He is sufficiently divorced from everyday politics and jostling and jousting to focus on the problems facing the country.
If Muhyiddin stepping down is the only solution for Perikatan Nasional to stay in power, he may be the best – no, the only compromise candidate acceptable to all. Even the opposition might support him. His chances: perhaps 22%.
5. Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein – a good pedigree but little else
What do you say about a person who has been rather mediocre so far, although the fact that he is a lawyer helps? But he has a good pedigree. His grandfather Datuk Sir Onn Jaafar is the founding father of Umno and its first president, although he left the party prematurely when it did not take too well to his suggestion of opening membership to all Malayans. A man ahead of his time. His father was the incorruptible, ramrod-straight, no-nonsense Tun Hussein Onn, the third prime minister of Malaysia. Hussein’s only fault was picking Dr Mahathir as his deputy. He admitted as much in later life.
But Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein exhibits none of the characteristics of his forebears. He is a middling politician being pushed to the top by a dearth of quality there. The main one of some quality is one Khairy Jamaluddin, also Covid-19 vaccine minister, considered too young to enter the fray now.
What are his chances? If it is desired that Ismail Sabri is not an ideal candidate for the prime minister’s position, he has an outside chance, perhaps as much as Ismail Sabri – 10%.
6. Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal – riding on East Malaysian credentials.
There is talk now of an East Malaysian possibly taking up the prime minister’s mantle, and this former Umno vice-president has been offered up. But his achievements are limited. He lost the state of Sabah, so how can he be prime minister? He does not even have support in Sabah. He is considered an alternative to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Why would Pakatan Harapan agree? Umno is meanwhile not going to support a dropout – actually, a person who was expelled along with Muhyiddin during Najib’s time.
His party has only nine MPs, even less than Dr Mahathir’s 13 MPs when he became prime minister again in 2018. Shafie is a long shot, his only appeal being that he is from East Malaysia – not quite enough right now to swing it. Let’s give him 5%.
7. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
What? Really? Are we Malaysians suckers for punishment? How many times can we take to being lied, cheated, and disappointed? He is the one who was responsible for all this mess in the first place. All he had to do was pass the baton to the willing and eager Anwar, but instead he dropped it – wilfully – at Sheraton. And Muhyiddin picked it up in a flash and left even Dr Mahathir behind and panting.
This name would not be even here if not for the constant cackle of those nostalgic for his time and enamoured of his own shadow economic recovery council, which he will of course head if given the chance. But he will promptly put Tun Daim Zainuddin in charge instead.
That’s what he did after he became prime minister for the second time: delaying setting up the cabinet, can you believe it? Daim was more powerful than Dr Mahathir and the cabinet put together making all major decisions for Malaysia where it mattered most – money, business, and economics. No, Dr Mahathir has hardly a chance after what he did. Let’s say 1%. If you still root for him, read this.
8. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – will he ever be prime minister?
He is his own worst enemy. He could have been prime minister if he had not let the fox Dr Mahathir into the henhouse even after he did not deliver with 13 out of 51 parliamentary seats contested. If Bersatu was not in PH, they would have won even fewer seats. Don’t believe that? Then read this.
Feathers flew everywhere but instead of turning on the fox, the hens and cockerels started pecking each other – oh, what a mess, needless bloodletting without any kills that went on for 22 months.
Now, Anwar wants to do a deal with Zahid of all people. At least, that’s what they say. He needs to put his head down and work, without compromise, to win GE15.
But let him make it crystal clear: PH will only support its own leader for prime minister, not anyone else. Otherwise, no deal. And that’s only an interim arrangement until GE15, after which it’s each party for itself. That way, you preserve integrity.
All those people who don’t want him forget one thing right now. How Malaysians forget. His coalition – yes, his; Dr Mahathir’s Bersatu only joined it – won the last general election. And if Dr Mahathir had kept his promise, Anwar would have been prime minister now and all this needless politicking would be unnecessary.
And that other thing many non-Malays tell me, that he is a Muslim extremist, I looked and can’t find the evidence. When he was finance minister in the nineties, he appointed a non-Malay secretary general at the Finance Ministry. Ask Tan Sri Clifford Herbert.
In 2008, at a rally in Gombak, a Malay-majority community, where he was campaigning for his then good friend Azmin ahead of GE13, I heard him say unambiguously, “Melayu anak kita, Cina dan India pun anak kita, dan semua lain-lain pun anak kita”, or words to that effect. He was advocating strongly that all poor must be helped irrespective of race. Now, which Umno or Bersatu leader has said that? Please show me the racist, extremist Anwar.
He still has a good chance if he exerts himself. Make it plain that the only leader PH will support for prime minister is the leader of PH. Period. No ifs, buts, and deals. No Dr Mahathirs, Shafies, or any others riding on PH’s baju. No more. Principled people don’t compromise on basics.
It will be poetic justice if he becomes prime minister. After all, that was the express premise and promise of GE15, which Dr Mahathir brutally thwarted at considerable expense to the country.
Also, if Anwar is prime minister, he has access to far better quality people to draw upon as ministers, not the clutch of incompetent, corrupt, and power-hungry monsters who largely constitute our cabinet, head our GLCs, and many state governments to boot from Umno and Bersatu.
9. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin – the power of incumbency
My top bets are Tengku Razaleigh, Anwar, and I am very sorry to have to say this, Muhyiddin with a 22% chance each of becoming prime minister. The power of incumbency is strong and can attract MPs who lack moral fibre for the right incentives. Tengku Razaleigh is a great compromise interim candidate until the next polls in 2023.
If PH puts its foot down and is able to entice previous deserters back into the fold from Bersatu, it can do it without having to go to bed with Umno. It can also do this with Umno MPs who are not supporting Muhyiddin but make it plain that it’s every party for itself come GE15. But vision and leadership is sorely lacking right now.
Muhyiddin, meanwhile, has a chance too but most people and politicians want him out for his abysmal handling of Covid-19. And rightfully so. As I write Malaysia is sixth in the world for Covid-19 cases per capita and rising.
Our leadership now is like Donald Trump in the United States where the president threw science out of the window and came up with his own cures for Covid-19. What a refreshing change Biden brought, as he overturned the tide of Covid-19. Muhyiddin needs to go, but will he?
The power of incumbency is great and Muhyiddin has shown himself to be resourceful in terms of pulling rabbits out of hats at crucial periods. If he had been that inventive with Covid-19, the menace would be behind us by now. He was not and that’s why he should go.
Anwar and PH won the last elections but both the victory and the prime ministership was hijacked by Dr Mahathir whose Bersatu was thrashed at GE14 in the Malay heartland, winning a mere 25% of seats contested, with a miserly 13 seats. If not for PH, they would have won less.
PH and allies need to exert their large number of 88-94 seats now. Make it clear they will only support its leader for the prime minister’s post, no one else. Will it work? You don’t know until you try, will you? – The Vibes, August 12, 2021
P. Gunasegaram is CEO of research and advocacy unit Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes