Is a new coalition able and ready to take over?

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin – Bernamapix

Lau Chee Hong

WHEN the July 26, 2021 Parliament session was suspended after five days and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced it would only resume in September, the opposition ranks cried foul.

Calls for Parliament to reopen for a confidence vote increased after Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi officially confirmed on Aug 3 that 11 Umno MPs no longer supported the Muhyiddin-led PN government.

The question is if a no-confidence vote today removes Muhyiddin, is a new coalition able and ready to take over?

In reality, only a handful of (Malay) leaders have the political muscle to cobble together a new coalition and become PM. Muhyiddin and Anwar Ibrahim are the obvious serious contenders. Warisan’s Shafie Apdal, Pejuang’s Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Umno’s Ahmad Zahid Hamidi each has far smaller MP numbers and thus only an outside chance.

As PM now, Muhyiddin has the advantage of incumbency and is in a position to “reward loyalty” with government positions and perks. Already, DAP and PKR MPs have reportedly been approached, with the going offer of a position plus “RM30 Durians”. Presumably a Durian translates to some amount of cash although I suspect not quite on the same scale as Jho Low’s “American pies”.

Another option for Muhyiddin to increase his numbers would be to “cooperate” with Amanah, Warisan and/or Pejuang. Amanah is likely infeasible due possible strong objection by PAS.

Warisan’s Shafie has his own PM ambitions. He resisted working with PN in Sabah, appears committed to the party’s multi-racial agenda and seems quite happy with its partnership with PH since 2018. But is it possible that one or more of the other Warisan MPs may not have the willpower to resist the durian offerings?

Mahathir had refused to work with Umno’s “court cluster”. But now that these guys are out of the Muhyiddin-led coalition, the outlook for a Pejuang-Bersatu merger looks good. Papa Mahathir will be pleased if his son Mukhriz is given a “meaningful” role in the new government, and perhaps even the top job later.

By comparison, Anwar’s prospects for stitching a coalition capable of beating a potentially stronger Muhyiddin-led coalition (and without the “court cluster” baggage) are as not good as the present PH leaders may think.

Even assuming all Warisan and other PH-friendly MPs (Syed Saddiq, Maszlee Malik, etc) remain on PH’s side, Anwar needs to do some serious horse-trading to convert another 7-8 MPs if he seeks to lead a majority government.

And so with the September Parliament opening date now almost a certainty, the race (to garner more MPs) is on.

Allegations (arising from a leaked phone recording) that Anwar has been in regular close contact with the Umno president could signal his willingness to work with the court cluster.

I’m sure Anwar is attracted to and would like to have access to Umno’s reputedly strong grassroots network at the next GE. But if Anwar, in his desire to be PM, insists on taking in whole or even a part of the Umno “court cluster” of 11 MPs, DAP must reject it totally.

DAP can rightly remind him that aligning with the “court cluster” in any form would be viewed by Pakatan Harapan’s (and especially DAP’s) core support base and by all right-thinking Malaysians as an irredeemable act of treachery. It’s a red line that even Mahathir would not cross.

DAP and PKR have been relatively successful political partners, growing stronger together since 2008 or earlier. Understandably, DAP leaders may feel emotionally pressured to stay with Anwar-led PKR “come what may”. But DAP must have the courage to let go of any partnership if its core values, principles and image risk being fatally compromised by remaining in that partnership.

Today, while Malay-led parties are squabbling over who should be PM, it is important to note that DAP is the only mainstream national party that does not seek the PM’s job. Historically, DAP leaders are, for the most part, not known to prioritise perks or positions.

During PH’s short stay in Putrajaya, the DAP ministers and deputy ministers also had the opportunity to prove their capabilities.

An unencumbered DAP may find new political opportunities to build new alliances that can work for the betterment of all Malaysians. It can and should also abandon alliances that don’t work so well.

This letter first appeared in Malaysiakini