Monday, March 2, 2020

Malaysian Politics - Will Frantic February settle down or are we going to see March Madness?

[If you find yourself getting whiplash trying to follow the political ping-ponging and neck-breaking change of fortunes over in Malaysia in the last week of February, you are a noob.

Or a Malaysian.

As any non-Malaysian with an interest in Malaysia politics should know by now, the trick of following Malaysian politics is to NOT follow it too closely.

I'll admit to not following my own advice. At the start of the last week of February, I got caught up in the breathless (but stupid) drama that is Malaysian politics. Is Dr M trying to betray Anwar again? Will Anwar be able to turn the tables on the old fox. What is Azmin Ali trying to do? Is Bersatu holding the trump cards? Does PKR/DAPPH have a strategic/tactical response? Will Anwar's journey to be PM be thwarted yet again?

Who cares?

Of all the questions above, the most important one, if you are not a Malaysian, is "who cares?"

If you are a Malaysian, my sympathies. In which case the most important question you may have is, "have you consider emigrating?"

But, let's assume that having read all the way down to here, you are still interested, perhaps morbidly, in the explanation for this political drama. Or dramedy. Or farce.

A good analysis and expose of the political machinations by Sarawak Report, lay the fault simply on Azmin Ali.

And if you need a happy ending, the short answer is that Azmin Ali did not get what he wanted. 

But if you are a Malaysian, should you be happy with the outcome? 

And what IS the outcome? Is this done?

Well, it's Malaysian politics. You can resigned after 22 years, and then come back after 15. You can be dropped into prison, and 22 years later be the PM-in-waiting, only to have that snatched away.

So who am I to say this is done? The soap opera that is Malaysia Politics is never ever really done.]

Explainer: Who could become Malaysia’s next PM?

By Kenneth Cheng

28 February, 2020

SINGAPORE — The stage has been set: After days of political tumult that peaked with the resignation of Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, lawmakers will meet in parliament next Monday (March 2) to decide on who will lead the country next.

This came after the Malaysian King interviewed members of parliament (MPs) to try to ascertain who should helm the country, but found no distinct majority for any candidate.

If a clear frontrunner fails to emerge in Monday’s session, Malaysia is set to head into a snap election — less than two years after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition swept to power in a surprise victory.

TODAY looks at the three possible candidates for prime minister, and the prospect of a snap poll.


Dr Mahathir, 94, is Malaysia’s interim prime minister and the world’s oldest leader.

He resigned as prime minister on Monday, three months shy of two years in the top post, after the collapse of a delicate four-party coalition that he led to power with former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim.

Malaysia’s King has named him to the interim position, in line with the federal constitution, until a new prime minister is appointed.

Dr Mahathir — who was also Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister from 1981 to 2003 — has the backing of 64 MPs in the country’s 222-seat federal parliament. To form a government, he needs to command a simple majority of 112 seats.

The 64 lawmakers who back him comprise those from his party, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM); former members of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) who have now formed an independent bloc headed by Mr Azmin Ali, the former economic affairs minister; the Coalition of Sarawak Parties; and Sabah state’s ruling party Warisan.

He is far from securing a simple majority.

Dr Cassey Lee, a senior fellow with the Malaysia studies programme at research centre Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said Dr Mahathir could cobble together a majority if he joins hands, at the eleventh hour, with the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) — parties that the PH coalition defeated in the 2018 polls.

Together, Umno and PAS have 57 members in the federal parliament. If Dr Mahathir does take those MPs under his wing, he would garner a comfortable majority of 121 members.

But Dr Mahathir has repeatedly made clear that he would not accept Umno — of which he was a member for much of his political career until 2016, when he joined PPBM — as part of a ruling government.

Dr Mahathir resigned as prime minister and PPBM chairman on Monday after the party’s president Muhyiddin Yassin pulled PPBM out of the PH coalition, resulting in the collapse of the government. Dr Mahathir said the impact of PPBM leaving PH was that the party would then support PAS and Umno in forming a pact.

Dr Mahathir quit Umno in 2016 as he said the party was dedicated to shielding former prime minister Najib Razak, who is facing a corruption trial in Malaysia’s High Court over state fund 1MDB.

Dr Lee said: “Dr Mahathir seems to have burned his bridge with Umno and PAS, so it’s difficult for his group to work with Umno. If they join, they would immediately have enough for a majority.”

Still, Dr Mahathir has signalled that he would be open to accepting Umno members who leave the party and join other parties.

Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Dr Mahathir could work with individual members of Umno to make up the shortfall.

“You really don’t know what Dr Mahathir has up his sleeves,” he said. “I think he must be plotting something these few days, to such an extent that Anwar is still deprived of the 112 (seats),” he said.


Mr Anwar, 72, was meant to succeed Dr Mahathir as prime minister by May as part of a succession pact — but the upheaval this past week threw those plans into disarray.

Even so, Mr Anwar appears to be the closest to winning a simple majority in parliament, with 92 MPs from the PH coalition’s three remaining parties behind him.

The three parties are the Democratic Action Party (DAP), PKR, of which Mr Anwar is president, and Parti Amanah Negara.

Political analysts told TODAY that Mr Anwar could secure a breakthrough if he received the backing of the Coalition of Sarawak Parties, which has 18 seats, and Warisan, which has nine. This would take his support past the simple majority needed, at 119 members.

Analysts have previously dubbed the parties in East Malaysia as “kingmakers” in the formation of a new federal government, with some believing that the Sabah and Sarawak MPs should capitalise on the opportunity to make demands for the two states.

It is not the first time that the East Malaysian parties have found themselves in such a role. Sabah and Sarawak helped the then Barisan Nasional (BN) government retain power in the 2008 and 2013 general elections. In the 2018 polls, unhappiness over the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, which outlined the terms for the country's formation, and rising state nationalism saw BN lose heavily in the two states, which had been its "fixed deposits". The results played a significant role in the fall of the BN government.

But Dr Lee of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute noted the longstanding enmity between the Coalition of Sarawak Parties and the DAP.

“If Anwar can smooth the relationship between the two parties, that would be the only clear breakthrough,” said Dr Lee.

Alternatively, Dr Lee said Mr Anwar could round up members from fringe parties, and persuade Warisan and some PPBM members to defect so as to scrape together a majority.


PPBM president and former home affairs minister Muhyiddin, 72, is the third prospective candidate. He was deputy prime minister and Umno’s deputy president from 2009 to 2015.

Dr Mahathir confirmed on Thursday that the party was considering Mr Muhyiddin as one of the candidates for the top job, adding he was “okay” with that outcome if everybody wanted it.

But the analysts said that the likelihood of Mr Muhyiddin becoming prime minister was low.

[And the "analysts" once again prove that they put the "anal" in "analysts".]

Dr Lee argued that it is unlikely Mr Muhyiddin would have the support to form a government, unless the party tied up with Umno and PAS, which both on Thursday refuted a news report that they were backing Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister.

And with Dr Mahathir agreeing to return as chairman of PPBM according to a report by state news agency Bernama, the prospect of PPBM working with Umno and PAS is unclear, given Dr Mahathir’s indication that he would not work with Umno.

Dr Serina Abdul Rahman, a visiting fellow with the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, agreed: “Muhyiddin… seems like a long shot in terms of support.”

Dr Lee added that Mr Muhyiddin’s health may also be a stumbling block. In 2018, he received treatment for pancreatic cancer.


Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute Tasmania, said the dissolution of parliament for snap polls was very unlikely, as this would be fraught with uncertainties and prolong the leadership crisis.

Already, the political stalemate has caused a dent in Malaysia’s economy, Prof Chin added.

Even so, Dr Lee said a snap election would benefit the Umno-PAS alliance because they are a strong Malay outfit.

Prof Chin said previously that sections of the Malay electorate who perceived the now-shattered PH government as controlled by the Chinese would be happy to see a new Malay unity government in power.

Dr Serina agreed: “For Umno to win (support), they would need snap elections.”

Muhyiddin edges closer to be eighth PM with expected Warisan backing

29 February, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR — Sabah’s ruling bloc is expected to back the nomination of Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin to be Malaysia’s next prime minister.

Sources told Malay Mail that Parti Warisan Sabah is expected to add its nine MPs to the mix, although their ally, Upko, with one MP, is expected to abstain.

However, one source close to the Sabah bloc stressed that the numbers are “not confirmed until it comes from CM”, referring to Mr Shafie Apdal.

Mr Shafie was believed to have met Mr Muhyiddin earlier on Friday (Feb 28).

Should Warisan confirm its support, Mr Muhyiddin would have 105 MPs out of 222 behind him.

This includes Bersatu’s 36, Barisan Nasional’s 42 and PAS’s 18.

Sarawak’s ruling pact, GPS, has said it will announce its decision on Sunday. Whoever gains GPS’s support will have the majority support of the lower house and can form the government.

However, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president James Masing had said that the party is not willing to work with “arrogant” DAP, and would rather deal with Islamist Party PAS’s religious leanings.

He said that the party would announce its pick for the Prime Minister’s post on March 1.

Interim Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also Bersatu advisor, had said on Thursday that in default of his vision of a non-partisan government, he was prepared to support Muhyiddin for the Prime Minister post if the majority voted him in.

The scenario is looking likely with Pakatan Harapan holding only about 93 votes from MPs in support of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

GPS, Warisan, Upko and several other individual MPs are the only ones yet to publicly announce their choice for the PM post.


In latest twist, Mahathir says he is back in the race to be PM, has the numbers to win

Following a meeting with Pakatan Harapan leaders on the morning of Feb 29, Dr Mahathir Mohamad has offered himself as a candidate for prime minister again.

The Malaysian Insight

29 February, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR — In yet another twist in Malaysia’s week-long political drama, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday (Feb 29) he has the numbers to be the next prime minister, after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition made an about-turn and threw support behind him once again.

“This morning I had a meeting with leaders of Pakatan Harapan. I am now confident that I have the numbers needed to garner majority support in the Dewan Rakyat,” Dr Mahathir said in a statement, referring to the Malaysian Parliament.

“I am therefore prepared to stand as prospective candidate for Prime Minister. This decision will be conveyed to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.”

In a separate statement, PH’s presidential council on Saturday said it was stating its full support for Dr Mahathir as the candidate to be prime minister.

This marked a double reversal of PH’s position within a week. Following Dr Mahathir’s resignation as prime minister on Monday, PH said it was backing him to return as premier.

But on Wednesday, PH had said it was instead backing Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim to be its prime minister candidate. This was because PH had rejected Dr Mahathir’s plan for a unity government that abandons the coalition’s May 2018 general election (GE14) manifesto.

“Pakatan Harapan is a coalition which received a clear mandate in GE14. PH firmly opposes any attempts at a ‘backdoor government’ especially those that involve kleptocrats and traitors to the cause, that will destroy all efforts for a reformation that have been implemented until now,” it said in its statement on Saturday.

“Therefore, in order to defend the struggle, Pakatan Harapan states its full support towards Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister candidate,” the PH presidential council added, also affirming that it would continue to defend its manifesto in the 14th general election.

On Saturday morning, Mr Anwar himself posted on his official Twitter account the PH presidential council’s statement which declared PH’s full support for Dr Mahathir as prime minister.

PH's u-turn and Dr Mahathir’s decision comes hours after his former party Bersatu said it was backing its president Muhyiddin Yassin for the prime ministerial post.

Mr Muhyiddin on Friday appeared to have an edge in the race to get majority support from Members of Parliament to back him as a candidate to be prime minister, with support from some 97 MPs in the 222-member House.

These include 36 from Bersatu, 39 from United Malays National Organisation (Umno), 18 from Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, two from Malaysian Chinese Association and one each from Malaysian Indian Congress and PBRS.

PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, meanwhile, had 93 MPs, all of whom are from PH, which also includes the Democratic Action Party and Amanah.

Sarawak and Sabah parties hold over 20 seats and their support would be critical in deciding who becomes prime minister.

Dr Mahathir on Saturday rejected the Bersatu announcement that implied or inferred he had supported Mr Muhyiddin as candidate for prime minister, pointing out that he did not do so.

“I did not sign any Statutory Declaration in support of any individual.

“In fact I left the meeting early to allow for a free debate among members of parliament from Bersatu to choose whomever they feel is suited for the post of prime minister,” the Langkawi MP explained.

Dr Mahathir also reaffirmed his stand to not work with corrupt politicians from the previous administration under Barisan Nasional (BN), adding that he had informed Bersatu MPs at their meeting on Friday.

“As I had repeatedly stated, I am against any form of cooperation with individuals who are known to be corrupt and was part of the kleptocratic administration which the Pakatan Harapan Government had worked hard to rid of.

“As a matter of principle I had conveyed this to the Bersatu Members of Parliament in the meeting yesterday,” he said.

“And as I had stated before, while I am not prepared to work with those who are corrupt from Umno, I can accept them individually for so long as they are proven clean. Perhaps Tan Sri Muhyiddin is more relaxed towards this approach,” he added.

Dr Mahathir, who had led the PH coalition in the May 2018 elections to defeat the Umno-led administration, had also on Wednesday publicly stated his refusal to work with Umno.

Several of Umno’s leaders — including Umno’s current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former president Najib Razak — are facing trials over alleged corruption.

Najib’s administration has also been criticised by his political opponents as being a “kleptocratic” government due to the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal.

Separately, Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman denied that he was part of the 36 MPs that the Bersatu statement had implied as supporting Mr Muhyiddin’s nomination as prime minister.

“It’s a lie! Tun didn’t sign, I didn’t and others,” he told reporters on Saturday via Whatsapp, referring to Dr Mahathir by his title.


Muhyiddin picked as Malaysia's 8th PM, to be sworn in on Sunday

29 February, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian King Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has picked Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin as the country's next prime minister, the palace said in a statement on Saturday (Feb 29).

The Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said Mr Muhyiddin, 72, will take the oath of office as the country’s eighth prime minister at Istana Negara on Sunday at 10.30am.

“After getting views from all political party leaders, and all independent Members of Parliament (MPs), the King’s view is that Muhyiddin has commanded the majority support from the MPs,” he said.

The King said the appointment of the prime minister cannot be delayed for the well-being of the people and the nation, added Mr Ahmad.

“He believes this is the best decision for everyone and hopes this puts an end to the political crisis at the moment.”

Speaking to reporters briefly after the announcement, Mr Muhyiddin thanked Allah and his supporters for his appointment.

"I would like to thank everyone who have given their moral support to me ... I hope all Malaysians will accept the decision made by the Palace," he said outside his home.

"Please pray for a brighter future for us all."

His supporters were heard chanting “Hidup Tan Sri!” a few times while some are seen hugging and even crying tears of joy.

The announcement capped a week of political drama in Malaysia that was full of twists and turns, starting with the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition which swept to power in the May 2018 general election.

Dr Mahathir also resigned as chairman of Bersatu, which had left PH along with a faction of MPs from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) led by former Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali.

Bersatu then nominated Mr Muhyiddin, who was Home Minister in Dr Mahathir's cabinet, as a prime minister candidate.

The remaining parties in PH, consisting of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Amanah, initially voiced their support for Dr Mahathir to continue as premier. On Wednesday, PH however nominated PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as its PM candidate.

PH said this was because it had rejected Dr Mahathir’s plan for a unity government that abandons the coalition’s May 2018 general election manifesto.

The opposition parties United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) had initially also said that it backed Dr Mahathir as a premier, but later said it wanted fresh polls instead.

By Friday night, Mr Muhyiddin appeared to have an edge in the race to get majority support from MPs to back him as a candidate to be prime minister, with support from some 96 MPs in the 222-member House.

These include 36 from Bersatu, 39 from Umno, 18 from PAS, two from Malaysian Chinese Association and one from Malaysian Indian Congress.

Then on Saturday morning, PH, which has 93 MPs, made another U-turn, saying that it will nominate Dr Mahathir as its PM candidate instead.

Dr Mahathir had also claimed on Saturday morning that he has the numbers to be the next prime minister.

The King had taken the unprecedented step of interviewing all MPs over two days earlier in the week to find out who they support as the PM, but initially could not identify any parliamentarian who commands the majority.

On Saturday morning, leaders of the political groups took turns to meet the monarch to present their preferred prime minister candidate.

PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan told reporters on Saturday that Mr Muhyiddin has the support of 114 MPs, with the additional 18 coming from Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

The Palace's announcement in the afternoon means that Mr Muhyiddin has beaten his former boss to the position and at the same time dashed the hopes of Anwar, who was slated to take over from Dr Mahathir before the political drama of this past week.

Mr Muhyiddin's appointment would also mark a spectacular reversal of fortune for Umno, which had been the mainstay of the Barisan Nasional coalition that ruled Malaysia for over six decades before it was ousted by PH in 2018.

Umno's impending return to power could mean a swing back towards an establishment that puts greater emphasis on Malay interests in the country of 32 million.

Mr Muhyiddin himself was from Umno but quit the party after a falling out with former prime minister Najib Razak over the 1MDB scandal.


Mahathir says he commands a majority in parliament, will present letter to king outlining his position

29 Feb 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday (Feb 29) said that he still commands the support of the majority of parliamentarians in Malaysia.

In a statement issued at night, Dr Mahathir said: “I would like to clarify that as the chairman of Bersatu (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia), me and five other Bersatu parliamentarians are not in support of Mr Muhyiddin (Yassin).

“This development therefore makes the numbers presented by Mr Muhyiddin to the king, inaccurate,” he said.

Attached to the statement was a list of 114 parliamentarians who are backing him to take over as Malaysia's next prime minister.

[Note: In the previous news report (and below), PAS sec-gen claims that Muhyiddin has 114 MPs' support. Here Dr M claims to have 114. There are 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat. This is Malaysian Math?]

Dr Mahathir, backed by Pakatan Harapan (PH), said he had prepared a letter explaining his position and the support of the 114 parliamentarians. He added that he intends to give the letter to the king.

“I will soon present to the king all the official letters and statutory declarations issued by these parliamentarians in support of me,” said the statement.

“I hope the king would accept my letter and explanation.”

Earlier, Malaysian media said PH intended to appeal the Malaysian king's decision to choose Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister, and was in the process of gathering statutory declarations from the MPs.

Dr Mahathir's shock resignation on Monday plunged the country into political turmoil. The king accepted his resignation and appointed him the interim prime minister.

On Saturday morning, political leaders took turns to meet the monarch to present their preferred prime minister candidate, after he said he could not identify any parliamentarian who commands the majority following a two-day consultation with all MPs.

Mr Muhyiddin, who pulled Bersatu out of PH, had partnered with Barisan Nasional (BN), Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and others in a bid to form a new government.

PH initially said on Wednesday it would nominate Mr Anwar Ibrahim, after Dr Mahathir put forth a proposal to form a unity government that cuts across party lines.

In a twist of events, PH announced on Saturday morning that it would back Dr Mahathir to be the prime minister again.

The palace issued a statement in the afternoon saying that the king had found that Mr Muhyiddin likely commanded the support of the majority of MPs.

PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan said Mr Muhyiddin had the support of 114 out of 222 MPs.

“That is no longer a minority government,” he was quoted as saying in the Malaysian Insight.

Describing Mr Muhyiddin’s appointment as the “best achievement” PAS has reaped from its cooperation with UMNO, Mr Takiyuddin said the two parties are now the biggest component in the new government.

PAS has 18 MPs while UMNO has 39.

In a Facebook video, Mr Muhyiddin said that he managed to get the numbers thanks to MPs from Bersatu, BN, PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, as well as a few independent MPs.

“This is a big burden and responsibility that we have to shoulder,” he said.

Malaysia swears in new prime minister as Mahathir forced out

01 March, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Muhyiddin Yassin, a Malay nationalist politician backed by the corruption-tarnished former ruling party, was sworn in as prime minister on Sunday after the king picked him to replace 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad.

The swearing-in capped a week of turmoil that began with Mahathir's resignation in an apparent bid to consolidate power, but ended with him sidelined and complaining of betrayal after decades dominating Malaysian politics.

Mahathir promised to seek a vote in parliament to challenge Muhyiddin's support, but conceded he might not win.

Muhyiddin, 72, was sworn in at a palace ceremony in front of Malaysia's king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, and promised to fulfil his duties as prime minister. His office said he would start work there on Monday morning, but made no further comment.

The change in leadership comes less than two years after Mahathir joined old rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, to defeat the ruling party of six decades, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), on an anti-corruption platform.

"This is a very strange thing," said Mahathir. "This is the losers that will form the government," he added, referring to the outcome of the 2018 election.

He said he had the support of 114 of parliament's 222 members, but it was not guaranteed that they would all support him should it come to a vote.

In a sign of support drifting away, a later statement from his Pakatan coalition said 112 lawmakers supported convening parliament as scheduled on March 9. The New Straits Times quoted the parliament speaker as saying the date would depend on the new prime minister, but it would probably be later.


Mahathir questioned whether a government involving the former ruling party would be as ready to pursue graft cases against its politicians. Those include former prime minister Najib Razak, who is now on trial for corruption.

A week of twists and turns in Malaysian politics began with Mahathir's resignation, breaking his alliance with Anwar as he proposed a national unity government without party loyalties that would have given him greater authority.

But Anwar then launched a bid to become prime minister, while Muhyiddin built his own alliance.

It was down to the king to decide who would have the best chance to form a government. Although Mahathir and Anwar said they had reunited on Saturday and now had majority support, the king announced Muhyiddin as the candidate.

About 200 protesters gathered in Kuala Lumpur late on Saturday to protest the king's decision. Police said they were investigating a Twitter post that encouraged people to join the protest, which they said was illegal.

Muhyiddin is from Mahathir's Bersatu party, but had shown himself ready to work with UMNO - from which he had been sacked in 2016 after questioning former prime minister Najib's handling of the 1MDB corruption scandal.

UMNO's fortunes have risen since its 2018 defeat, with the Pakatan coalition of Mahathir and Anwar losing five by-elections in the face of criticism from some Malay voters that it could do more to favour the biggest ethnic group in a nation of 32 million.

"We don't know how this new government will be but they should be given a chance," said Sharifah Marina Abu Backer, 55, a Malay businesswoman.

UMNO, which Mahathir led from 1981 to 2003 during a previous stint as prime minister, supports Malay nationalism.

As well as personal relationships, politics in Malaysia is shaped by ethnic, religious and regional interests. Malaysia is more than half ethnic Malay, but has large ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minorities.


[And so the question you should be asking yourself is, "what has changed?" After all the twists and turns what has it accomplished? What has changed for the common people? What brave new world is Malaysians facing?

Sadly, it may be the same old, same old.]

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