July 29, 2015
Malaysia: Muhyiddin pays the price for misplaced Loyalty
by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysuatoday.com
And so the curtain comes down on Muhyiddin Yassin. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s decision to replace him with Zahid Hamidi comes as an act of retaliation for his aggressive speech to the Cheras division of UMNO, in which he disclosed that not only had he advised Najib to resign from the 1MDB Advisory Board, but also that none of the cabinet ministers had the faintest idea of what was going on in the scandal-ridden government-owned company.
Actually, a cabinet reshuffle has been an oft-whispered rumour for quite some time now. Najib has been looking to consolidate his power by surrounding himself with loyalists who will not question his actions and will defend him from the attacks of former PM Mahathir Mohamad and from the rakyat’s anger, particularly over the high cost of living.
Pundits had long suspected that Muhyiddin had his own agenda. Even before Sunday’s fate-sealing speech, he had already given less than subtle indications of his dissatisfaction with the way the 1MDB issue was being handled. At the height of Mahathir’s attacks on Najib, when it seemed like he was about to jump ship and pledge allegiance to the elder statesman, many were the voices that egged him on. Whether he expected to be sacked, or indeed was waiting to be sacked, only he can tell. But it is unlikely that he expected it to happen so suddenly.
What was underestimated was just how hard Najib would cling to power. Despite the scandals, despite the exposes, the Prime Minister has struck a stubborn, confrontational stance that is at odds with his famous silence.
After postponing the UMNO party elections, Najib probably sees his removal of dissent from his cabinet as the culmination of his master plan to leave his authority unchallenged, at least till the 14th general election, which must be held by 2018. He has chosen to surround himself with loyalists who have been defending him against attacks over the 1MDB scandal. So now we can no longer expect dissent from within the cabinet, at least not in public. It appears that there will no longer be any check and balance or any offer of a different perspective to Najib as he attempts to play the dangerous game of managing the 1MDB scandal while trying to pacify the rakyat, who are restless not only over the rising cost of living but also over his decision to brook no dissent from the media and from UMNO itself.
The real question now is how the Malay community will accept all this. The Malays have seldom taken kindly to the removal of one of their leaders in so stark a manner over a political dispute. The last time a Deputy Prime Minister was forced out abruptly, the Reformasi movement was born. Furthermore, it’s not as if the Malays don’t know a weakened leader when they see one. Najib’s move for political survival sends the message that he is not only ruthless, but also desperate to improve his situation. And desperation is weakness.
Najib’s latest actions are not those of a cold mastermind, but the flailing of a desperate man who realises the waters have risen so high that he is close to drowning. Nevertheless, his sacking of Muhyiddin does look like a sound political move given the disorganisation of the opposition and the lack of a unified front for the movement to oust him. But it is sound only for the time being, and probably a short time. Continuing in this high-handed manner will not do him any good in the way of gaining support from the rakyat. In fact, he is mistaken if he thinks that his reshuffled cabinet will be seen by the rakyat as more competent than the previous one.
Najib may have won the battle for now. He has wiped out dissent in his cabinet, fortified his position as Prime Minister, and taken steps to ensure he cannot be removed from office outside of a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He has used all the tools at his disposal in a way reminiscent of Mahathir, albeit with much less finesse. But he has a long way to go, and with this latest move, he may have given the anti-Najib movement something that it desperately needs – a figure to rally around who can step in to replace him.