International/Kuala Lumpur

Chaos and Challenges

The democratic process has been flouted and the will of the people has been undermined in Malaysia to select a more pliant regime.

By Taha Kehar | June 2020

Over the last four months, Malaysia has been negotiating the complex political minefields that were triggered by the unexpected resignation of its former premier Mahathir Mohamad. If the testimony of former cabinet minister Syed Saddiq is to serve as a gauge, an “illegitimate back-door government”, dominated by defectors and kleptocrats, has seized the reins in the Southeast Asian nation and the roots of democracy have been weakened. Political analysts fear that this marks the emergence of a short-cycle that could have political and economic implications.

February 2020 will go in the country’s history as a time when a power struggle that verged on a dramatic game of thrones beset the country. On February 24, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin –president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – left the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. In addition, 11 MPs associated with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) also jumped ship under the influence of their party’s deputy president Azmin Ali. In the wake of these defections, the ruling coalition collapsed and Mahathir stepped down from the top slot. His decision was fuelled by the desire to consolidate his position amid political wrangling.

Undeterred by the crisis that was simmering within the country, Mahathir – who was appointed the interim prime minister by the king until a new leader was selected – expressed a desire to establish a unity government comprising officials who wouldn’t be easily swayed by party ideologies and politics. A week later, the king appointed Muhyiddin Yassin as the new premier. Yassin was backed by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was ousted in the 2018 polls following economic mismanagement of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

A quick glance at these puzzling developments reveals that the democratic process has been flouted and the will of the people has been undermined to select a more pliant regime. While the political legitimacy of the Yassin-led government appears questionable, Mahathir has also been viewed as the architect of his own political downfall. The former prime minister had pledged to hand over power to his chosen successor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. In the absence of a clear timeline for this transfer of power, skeptics feared that the erstwhile PM would monopolize political authority and backpedal on his promise.

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