March 16, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) has raised political temperatures with the spectre of another government collapse after several of its leaders were arrested and charged with alleged graft and abuse of power during the coalition’s brief tenure in power between 2020 and 2021.
Leaders of the largely Malay-Muslim opposition coalition, headlined by Malay-Muslim parties Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), have played up the prospect of a premature end to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration.
“God willing, it will happen soon,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said during a dialogue on Feb 27, a week after Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan became the first politician to be charged over a growing scandal surrounding Jana Wibawa, a Covid-19 stimulus measure for the construction industry introduced by Bersatu chief Muhyiddin Yassin when he was PM.
Despite the country’s appetite for political stability after seeing four prime ministers in as many years, Datuk Seri Hadi doubled down on his comments last week, claiming that it was PN’s “right” to plan to topple the government, while claiming that there were government parties that were already unhappy.
Soon after, Muhyiddin, who became the second Malaysia ex-premier to be charged with graft after he was accused last Friday, echoed the view that there was discontent among parties in the mixed coalition government, and that the government might “drop out” before its full five-year term expires in 2027.
In 2018, former PM Najib Razak faced multiple graft allegations over the corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB, and has since been jailed.
While a new anti-hopping law effectively prevents individual MPs from changing parties, it still allows political parties to switch allegiances en bloc – something which Muhyiddin’s Bersatu did to collapse the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2020 and kickstart a period of prolonged political turmoil.
Datuk Seri Anwar’s PH has only 82 seats in Parliament, and is highly dependent on smaller regional outfits and former rival Barisan Nasional to form its majority in Parliament. Despite the government having a two-thirds majority, PN remains the second largest bloc in Parliament with 74 seats, although it makes up the entirety of the opposition bench.
University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi told The Straits Times that the messages being sent out by PN were a form of “political warning” towards Mr Anwar to keep him on his toes.
However, Dr Awang Azman said that toppling the government now would be difficult, given its majority and the anti-hopping law.
“Muhyiddin is facing a crisis in leadership. His reputation is falling, so he tries a democratic power grab, with the hope that his case can be dropped if he becomes PM,” he added.
Muhyiddin had largely campaigned on an anti-corruption and pro-Malay platform during last year’s closely fought general election, which produced no clear winner and a hung Parliament. He had raced against Mr Anwar to form a government after the November polls, and lost.
Mr Anwar has taken a keen interest in investigating the purported wrongdoings of Muhyiddin’s short but controversial tenure as PM between 2020 and 2021. Muhyiddin has maintained his innocence and claimed he and his party colleagues are victims of political persecution.
After coming to power through midterm defections in 2020, Muhyiddin stayed as premier for 17 months – most of it marred by a worsening Covid-19 pandemic and a six-month state of emergency – before he lost majority support in Parliament and was forced to resign.
Dr Awang Azman said that the toppling threat may still find some traction among PN’s large conservative support base, but some supporters might feel that Muhyiddin’s clean image has been tarnished by the graft charges.