Renewed political in-fighting . . .
In the latest episode in Malaysia’s ongoing political saga, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, aged 94, was ‘terminated’ from his own party, the Malaysian United Indigenous party (Bersatu). Mahathir founded Bersatu in 2016, and two years later, a Bersatu-headed coalition defeated the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Mahathir’s former party, which had been in power for 61 years. The recent move rekindled intraparty tensions after 11 weeks of relative political calm amid the COVID-19 crisis. Mahathir’s son and three others were also expelled, allegedly for sitting with the opposition during a brief parliamentary session in protest of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. This contravened Bersatu’s constitution, which bars affiliating with other parties.
A constant thorn in Muhyiddin’s side . . .
Mahathir lost the prime minister-ship in February. He had been under increasing pressure to fulfill his promise to step down after two years and pass the torch to the now-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. In a move to conserve his power, Mahathir resigned, triggering a collapse of the ruling coalition, including Bersatu and Anwar’s party. The Malaysian king appointed Muhyiddin as prime minister, who cobbled together a new coalition that includes UMNO and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Mahathir has attacked Muhyiddin and members of his cabinet, calling the former illegitimate and lobbing corruption accusations at him for siding with UMNO. UMNO’s previous leader and former prime minister, Najib Razak, is on trial for allegedly embezzling millions from the country’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB.
Political instability bad for recovery . . .
Mahathir and his allies are challenging their expulsion, and analysts believe the political upheaval will distract the government from its COVID-19 response and economic recovery. Muhyiddin and his government are now preoccupied with consolidating their hold on power, especially since his party does not hold a majority of members of the governing coalition. Although Malaysia has flattened its COVID-19 transmission curve and is on the path to recovery, pundits argue that further action is required to stimulate the economy, requiring united and swift government action that could be threatened by political bickering.
- Channel News Asia: Mahathir won’t go quietly after being sacked, even as Muhyiddin consolidates power in Bersatu: Analysts
- Malay Mail: Removal of ‘Bersatu Five’ springboard for Dr Mahathir’s own do-or-die offensive against Muhyiddin, say analysts
- Nikkei Asian Review: Malaysia must stop political squabbling and boost economic stimulus