Malaysia’s opposition lines up new leaders out of ex-PM Muhyiddin’s shadow

The move comes amid an internal push to sideline its chairman Muhyiddin Yassin, who has been the face of the coalition throughout its campaign.

Shannon Teoh and Ram Anand

Shannon Teoh and Ram Anand

The Straits Times


PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin (left) will be the opposition leader and PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan will be chief whip. PHOTOS: HAMZAH ZAINUDIN/FACEBOOK, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

December 15, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s only opposition bloc Perikatan Nasional (PN) has started fronting a new batch of leaders amid an internal push to sideline its chairman Muhyiddin Yassin, who has been the face of the coalition throughout its campaign in the recently concluded general election.

PN, which is the second-biggest bloc in Malaysia’s Parliament, on Sunday revealed that its secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin will play the role of the opposition leader when the country’s lower house sits for the first time since the election.

Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan has been appointed chief whip for PN’s 74 lawmakers.

This leaves Bersatu president Muhyiddin and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to serve as PN’s parliamentary leaders, despite being the most senior figures in the coalition.

The Straits Times understands that PN’s diffused parliamentary leadership structure comes as Datuk Seri Hamzah leads a push for PN to be fronted by a new slate of leaders.

Within the bloc, Tan Sri Muhyiddin is seen as having been detrimental to PN’s chances of being part of the government after the Nov 19 election resulted in a hung Parliament.

The former premier turned down Malaysia King Abdullah Ahmad Shah’s suggestion to form a unity government with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH), after both PH and PN emerged as the biggest blocs in the election.

Mr Muhyiddin’s uneasy relationship with Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders also contributed to BN chief Zahid Hamidi choosing to support Mr Anwar as both PH and PN tried to amass a simple majority to form a government. Mr Anwar eventually became Prime Minister on Nov 24, after five days of post-election negotiations.

PN is the only party on the opposition bench after the rest of the smaller outfits in Malaysia’s fragmented political landscape decided to back Mr Anwar’s government, on the express wishes of King Abdullah for a strong unity government to lead the country.

Mr Hamzah’s turn as opposition leader positions him as a contender for the country’s top job should PN return to power. Both Mr Anwar and his predecessor Ismail Sabri Yaakob previously served as opposition leaders prior to becoming prime minister.

At 65, he is a decade younger than Mr Muhyiddin, has a history of personal enmity with Mr Anwar, and served in the Cabinet since 2015 – including holding the powerful Home Minister portfolio under both Mr Muhyiddin and Datuk Seri Ismail’s administrations.

The four-term MP from the Larut ward in Perak had his career propelled by the infamous Sheraton Move in 2020, which saw Mr Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leave PH. This led to the collapse of the PH administration, then led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Having defected in 2019 from long-ruling Umno, Mr Hamzah became Bersatu’s secretary-general when the party shed members who disagreed with the 2020 mass defections. As a direct result, he became the first secretary-general of the newly formed PN, which was established by Bersatu and PAS to form Malaysia’s new government in March that year.

Mr Hamzah was also previously involved in a court battle with Mr Anwar. He was sued by the latter for claiming in 2008 that Mr Anwar had harassed his former wife in 1998 when both men were in Umno. Mr Anwar eventually dropped the RM10 million (S$3 million) lawsuit in 2013, after a confidential resolution between both parties.

University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi said that individuals like Mr Hamzah and former minister Azmin Ali are expected to be the key leaders of PN in the near future.

Mr Muhyiddin would not particularly be interested in a role as opposition leader after failing in his second bid to become premier, he added. “Muhyiddin and Hadi Awang are also seen as a liability after extreme use of racial and religious sentiments in order to win votes.”

But without Cabinet and government-linked positions – something which PN had enjoyed since it was formed in 2020 – the coalition’s influence may wane in the future, Mr Awang Azman added.

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