How and why desperate Muhyiddin tries to pull a ‘Mahathir crying’ drama to cling to power

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A test of his party’s loyalty to him.

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Muhyiddin Yassin, whose given name is Mahiaddin Yasin but was too ashamed to use it, announced on Friday (Nov 24) that he would step down as president of his party – Bersatu or Malaysian United Indigenous Party. The country’s first backdoor prime minister said he will not defend his position as party president in the next party election, which is due next year.

Speaking at the sixth Bersatu Annual General Assembly, he said – “The time for me to pass on the party leadership to a new team of leaders has arrived. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all Bersatu leaders and members if I have committed any mistakes during my time as president. Take good care of this party”. Then – Kaboom – the drama starts.

His announcement somehow surprised some delegates, or at least they pretended to be shocked, with some crying out “jangan” (Malay for don’t) and “tak nak” (don’t want). Bersatu deputy president Ahmad Faizal Azumu claimed he was shocked, surprised, upset and whatnot by his boss’ stunning decision to quit, saying delegates were begging the party president to stay.

Less than 12 hours after the dramatic chaos at the party’s meeting, the Bersatu Supreme Council held an emergency meeting and voila, Mahiaddin’s decision was unsurprisingly rejected. The party’s secretary general Hamzah Zainudin said – “We are of the view that Muhyiddin’s leadership is still needed by the party and the nation”. Sure, and we believe Britney Spear is still a virgin.

From the beginning, Muhyiddin, who is facing multiple corruption charges, has no intention of quitting as Bersatu president, let alone giving up his dream of redeeming the humiliation of being ousted as prime minister after only 17 months in power. It was only last month (Oct 2023) when the Opposition Perikatan Nasional chairman suggested a change of government could happen very soon.

In fact, it was already a “red flag” when a power-hungry man who was still dreaming of returning to become prime minister for the second time suddenly announced he would go into retirement. Mahathir Mohamad almost fell off his chair laughing at his once most trusted lieutenant’s political drama. It’s the same script which Mahathir used 20 years ago when he similarly pulled the same stunt.

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On June 22, 2002, after more than 20 years in power, then-PM Mahathir unexpectedly announced during the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) General Assembly that he would quit immediately, only to rescind the decision after an hour of pleading by party loyalists. Party delegates, caught by surprise, said the UMNO president was irreplaceable.

UMNO leaders, such as Wanita Chief Rafidah Aziz and Youth Chief Hishammuddin Hussein rushed to the rostrum to console the emotional Mahathir, persuading him to U-turn. Rafidah was infamous for asking her boss, after breaking the heel of her super expensive high-heel shoes – “Why, why, why?” Muhammad Muhammad Taib, UMNO vice-president, said – “Even after 100 years, or even 1,000 years, it would be difficult to find another like him.”

Delegates shouted “Hidup Mahathir” (Long Live Mahathir) several times as they clapped their hands to show moral support. Even some journalists during the era when news media were tightly controlled by the corrupt Mahathir government were moved to tears. However, as expected, then-UMNO permanent chairman Sulaiman Ninam Shah called the meeting to order and rejected Mahathir’s decision to step down.

After an hour or two of coaxing later, his deputy Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Mahathir had retracted his decision. By then the premier had left. After shedding crocodile tears, the 76-year-old Mahathir left for a holiday in Italy immediately after stunning the UMNO annual congress. Over the next few days, UMNO leaders continued to persuade Mahathir to remain as prime minister.

It was hard to believe that Mahathir, an old fox with the reputation of being more Machiavellian than Machiavelli, would throw a tantrum and recklessly give up power by resigning as Prime Minister, Finance Minister, UMNO President and Barisan Nasional Chairman with immediate effect. He had not groomed Abdullah Badawi properly for a smooth and orderly transition as his successor.

Of course, it was all a “sandiwara” (drama), planned and orchestrated to see if the public and UMNO still love Mahathir. It was part of a spectacular test of his party’s loyalty to their leader. But when Badawi announced that a deal had been struck that Mahathir would stay until Oct 31, 2003, the PM had no choice but to hand power – even if he had wanted to make a U-turn.

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For obvious reasons, Muhyiddin cannot cry like a baby. It would be too obvious that he was a copycat, taking a page from Mahathir’s playbook. But Muhyiddin’s situation is different from that of Mahathir. As a start, Mahathir was still the most powerful man in the country when he was toying around with the idea of quitting, therefore, every UMNO delegate wanted him to stay as the captain of the gravy train.

Muhyiddin, however, is now powerless after he drove the Perikatan Nasional coalition to the opposition camp post-15th General Election. As a result, his gravy train malfunctions and whatever gravy is left is frozen. Without money to go around, four of Bersatu’s 31 MPs had defected, with more to follow suit as angry supporters demand a change of leadership.

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Despicable Hamzah, the so-called architect of “Sheraton Move” – the political coup that saw traitor Muhyiddin seizing power by plotting with enemies (defeated UMNO and extremist PAS Islamist party) to topple democratically elected Pakatan Harapan government in March 2020 – quietly sent his minions such as Bersatu Supreme Council member Eddin Syazlee Shith to pressure Muhyiddin to quit.

Eddin said party leaders must be magnanimous and relinquish their positions if they were no longer capable of bearing the responsibility – clearly targeting Muhyiddin’s arrogance and tactical error when he rejected King Sultan Abdullah’s invitation to both Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan and Muhyiddin-led Perikatan Nasional to form a Unity Government last November.

Another mistake was Muhyiddin’s close relationship with Azmin Ali, the former deputy president of PKR who betrayed Anwar Ibrahim along with 10 PKR MPs, leading to the collapse of Pakatan Harapan government. As an outsider of Bersatu, Azmin does not have strong support within the party – sparking bad blood between his faction and Hamzah faction.

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the people’s hatred for Azmin had contributed to Bersatu losing truckloads of votes. Azmin himself lost his parliamentary seat in the national polls. Entrusted to lead the party in the Selangor state election, Azmin had promised to deliver at least 33 seats but only managed to secure 22 seats, half of which were won by a margin of less than 5%.

The latest gimmick to quit Bersatu was Muhyiddin’s last card to cling to power. It was the only way to checkmate Hamzah, who tried to challenge his boss but whose reputation and popularity were no match for Muhyiddin. Besides testing the party’s loyalty to him, the party president wanted to send a message to rebels that the party would vaporise without him because Bersatu is synonymous with his name.

In the worst-case scenario that he had to surrender his presidency, Muhyiddin wanted to be promoted as “Bersatu Chairman”, a position which was abolished in Nov 2020 after former Bersatu chairman Mahathir was sacked by Muhyiddin. It would be too humiliating for him to be ousted by Hamzah and to be known in history as a traitor and a loser.

The internal power struggle is not the only problem. Despite Muhyiddin’s role as the Perikatan Nasional chairman, the real “big brother” in the coalition is PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. Even though Bersatu is part of the Perikatan Nasional opposition bloc, it actually depended on the backing of the conservative Islamist party to make inroads among the country’s majority ethnic-Malay Muslims.

Mr Moo can only ask how high when Hadi tells him to jump. Can Hamzah or any successor control the snake oil salesman Hadi when even Muhyiddin is at the mercy of the religious extremist? Already, PAS greedily controls all four states (Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis and Kedah) and left Bersatu without any power base. Even in Perlis, the smallest state, PAS is bullying Bersatu for power.

To rub salt on Muhyiddin’s injury, PAS has appointed Mahathir as the “advisor” of the state government four (SG4)  – the clearest sign that the Islamist party appreciates an old man who used to condemn Hadi as a “traitor”, “munafiq (hypocrite)” and “kafir (infidel)” more than a friend who invited Hadi to share power through a backdoor government. That’s an incredible insult to Muhyiddin.

Therefore, part of the drama was to convince PAS that Bersatu wasn’t disintegrating after four Bersatu MPs defected for greener pasture. Muhyiddin desperately wanted to show that he was still in control, at least of his own party. Without him leading the party, not only PAS will claim the position as Perikatan Nasional chairman, but the fragile Bersatu will crumble causing the opposition to weaken.

That’s why Muhyiddin said he decided to step down in order not to see Bersatu broken up. What he really meant was that if he was forced to step down, the party would break up as he was the glue (at least he believed so) that held both Bersatu and Perikatan Nasional intact. Ahmad Faizal Azumu was merely replaying the role of Rafidah Aziz in the Mahathir’s crying episode in 2002, minus breaking any shoe heel.

While Mahathir’s drama production was a blockbuster success, beating Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars, Avengers and Spiderman combined, Mahiaddin’s film is a huge disappointment. Without putting any effort into a new storyline, the political drama is so lame and predictable. Muhyiddin finally makes a U-turn on Saturday (Nov 25), barely 24 hours after all the weeping, wailing and begging directed by his deputy Faizal Azumu.

Mahathir won awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Actor, Best Actress (thanks to Rafidah), Best Director, Best Sound, Best Production Design and the list goes on. Still, Muhyiddin successfully won himself the Golden Raspberry Award – Worst Actor of the Century, Worst Drama, and the Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel Awards.

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More importantly, Muhyiddin won the Worst Written Film award for shamelessly and comically saying he made the U-turn decision after consulting with his wife. Mahathir did not involve his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Ali when he broke down in tears some 20 years ago. And he certainly did not drag in his wife when he was persuaded to stay for another year during the transition period.

Coming from a traitor, whose legitimacy as a premier was not recognized by the world leaders, there’s no surprise that Muhyiddin would stoop so low by using his wife as an excuse. After all, this is the same pathetic power-crazy man who does not have a red line that he won’t cross, including telling the world about his diarrhoea while in office just to get sympathy. Regardless, it won’t stop internal backstabbing and betrayal. – Finance Twitter

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