There’s a new Umno chief minister in Malacca, Ab Rauf Yusoh. New political appointments to government agencies, statutory bodies, and GLCs which include and will include Umno politicians. The Court of Appeal has permanently released Umno president and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s international passport.
These events raise questions as to the amount of leeway this unity government’s junior partner Umno enjoys under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership. Is this what the people voted for? In Umno’s heartland in the rural Malay-majority region, voters abandoned the party and gave their vote to Perikatan Nasional (PN). Yet Umno seems to be wielding considerable influence in Anwar’s government.
There may be a couple of reasons for the weight Umno has in Anwar’s administration. A single statement by Deputy Public Prosecutor Abdul Malik Ayob in hearing Zahid’s request to have his passport back permanently is telling. He said he was instructed not to raise any objection to the application, which can only mean that the DPP had objections but was not allowed to make them on instructions.
In the absence of any objection, it is not surprising that the three-person Court of Appeal bench allowed Zahid’s request on the basis that circumstances have changed and Zahid was made a minister and his personal and diplomatic passports were needed to perform his duties.
This is what happens when politicians facing court charges are placed in government. It becomes necessary to accommodate them by bending the rules.
Anwar can’t be accused of influencing the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) as he doesn’t need to as the current AGC will perform as it has and the outcome is as what the public has witnessed in the past three years.
The current performance of the AGC, however, is benefitting the politicians who are facing court charges. Evidently, Anwar is not interfering even if it makes him look as having betrayed the reform agenda on which he built his support.
Another reason for compromising on reforms to have Umno on his side, perhaps, is to indicate Malay support for his unity government.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition only won 13% of the Malay vote in Peninsular Malaysia and combined with Umno’s 32% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20), it comes up to a tally of 45%. Together with the Malay vote from Sabah and Sarawak, he could claim a Malay majority but it is a weak majority as the unity government did not get the mandate of the people but was instructed and appointed by the king.
Being the party with the biggest Malay representation in the unity government, Anwar may be giving Umno a stronger voice in government by accommodating its requests for political appointments and being silent on some of the compromises being made to revive Umno. A revived Umno could mean more Malay support for PH.
Banking on a revived Umno to deliver Malay votes for Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in the future, however, may be a risky undertaking. In the Malay heartland, Umno’s support dropped from 44% in GE14 to 32% in GE15 (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20). The clear message from the Malay voters in this rural and semi-rural region is that their preference is for PN.
The state elections in June will reveal if this trend will continue. If it continues, Umno will lose more Malay support.
PH’s best bet in getting Malay support is in the urban areas. That, too, may be an uphill task considering the fact that PH lost more than half its Malay support in GE15. PKR’s Malay support dropped from GE14 to GE15 from 30% to 14%, DAP’s from 34% to14% and Amanah’s from 22% to 12% (Bridget Welsh, COMMENT | GE15 voting analysis – Part 7: Battle for Malays, Malaysiakini, March 20).
Again, the state elections in June, particularly in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan which have dominant urban Malay populations, will reveal Malay support for PH and Anwar’s leadership.
Without a demonstrable reform agenda while in government and accommodating Umno at the same time may have a negative outcome rather than what is hoped for.
It would be better for PH to win support by sticking to its reform agenda rather than resorting to the political expediency of unsavoury alliances, unacceptable compromises and undemocratic Memorandums of Understanding.