Dennis Ignatius: Behind the Pandemic, Politics as Usual

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Coronavirus or not, the backdoor government’s quest for power and position continues unabated.

Don’t for one moment think that because of the coronavirus pandemic politics has taken a backseat. While most Malaysians are focused on the threat to our health and well-being, its politics as usual in Putrajaya.

Don’t forget we still have a backdoor government in office which has yet to prove it can withstand a vote of confidence in parliament. Nothing is certain given our political culture of shifting allegiances and the persuasive power of money. The pandemic is simply an opportunity for the government to quietly consolidate its position while public attention is distracted.

Perhaps that might explain why Prime Minister Muhyiddin seems to be leaving it to his ministers – including his clueless health minister – to manage the coronavirus crisis.

The sacking of PPBM secretary-general Marzuki Yahya says a lot about what is going on behind the scenes. Muhyiddin is not as secure within his own party as he makes out to be. The fact that he backed away from challenging Mahathir for the chairmanship of the party shows he lacks the confidence to take on the grand old man of Malaysian politics.

Sacking Marzuki will allow Muhyiddin to appoint his own man to the post, a move that is critical to ensuring greater control of the party. Mahathir, as party chairman, however, quickly declared the sacking illegal. What next?

With Mahathir set to become a thorn in Muhyiddin’s side, Muhyiddin will now have to face the same sort of internal backstabbing that Anwar had to contend with courtesy of Azmin Ali. What goes around comes around I suppose.

Muhyiddin’s options are limited. With a divided leadership, no party infrastructure, no grassroot support and no money, PPBM cannot afford to face the people in early general elections. Indeed, many observers consider that PPBM has as much of a future to look forward to as MIC.

All Muhyiddin can do is to try to hang on to the coattails of UMNO and PAS in a desperate bid to hang on to power. And the more he does that, the more he loses credibility.

In the meantime, the lack of credibility is creating anxiety about the motives behind some of his decisions. The deployment of the army to help patrol the streets, for example, is raising a lot of eyebrows.

Afif Abd Halim/TMI

There might be good reasons for deploying the army, but the Muhyiddin has simply not made the case for it. Many don’t feel comfortable with the army taking on civilian responsibilities, especially when the police are more than capable of enforcing the movement control order. That this is a government of with near zero commitment to democracy doesn’t help either.

It all boils down to a question of trust, I suppose, but trust in this government is something that is in even shorter supply these days than facemasks.

Given the serious threat of the pandemic we are facing, many are hoping that we can all stand together to face a common enemy; don’t count on the politicians, however, to share this sentiment. Coronavirus or not, their quest for power and position continues unabated.