Is another government collapse imminent in Malaysia? Political analysts share their thoughts

Is another government collapse imminent in Malaysia? Political analysts share their thoughts

Earlier this month, Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) president, defended the Perikatan National (PN) coalition’s right to continue its plan to overthrow the Unity Government.

Hadi Awang, Deputy Chairman of the biggest opposition coalition PN in the parliament, said toppling a government is normal in politics.

“We see signs indicating that in this mixed government, there is dissatisfaction among its own components. It happens. That is why something like this is not impossible,” he told reporters on 6 March.

Malaysia has been embroiled in political turmoil for the past four years, culminating in the infamous “Sheraton Move” in 2022 that led to the downfall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government – which ended Barisan Nasional’s (BN) dominance in Malaysia that had lasted for over half a century.

Hence, it is understandable that PAS President Hadi Awang’s recent remarks have drawn criticism for dishonouring the Malaysian King’s wish for political stability and his majesty’s advice for political leaders to focus on economic recovery.

However, is there a possibility of another government collapse in Malaysia, as suggested by PAS president?

No surprise for Hadi Awang on overthrowing Govt

According to James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, Hadi Awang is sending a signal that he wants strong support from the Malay community in the upcoming state elections.

James Chin

“When Hadi Awang talked about all this, and also increasing racist statements towards the non-Malay community in Malaysia, he is doing this with an eye on the upcoming six state elections, so we should not be surprised about the fact that he’s always talking about the overthrow of the current government.”

The six states — Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor, and Terengganu — have agreed to dissolve their respective state assemblies in the last two weeks of June, with polls due later this year.

Unity government understands PN’s threat

Dr Lim Chee Han, Co-founder of Agora Society Malaysia, notes that the current unity government, which is composed of Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Zahid’s Barisan National, already saw the threat of PN challenging them in many seats.

Lim Chee Han

“So, both sides took the position that the best defence is offence: Anwar’s government wastes no time to pin down BERSATU leaders, trying to create a rift and cleavage between BERSATU and PAS.”

Dr Lim, who is also a senior researcher at Third World Network, an international non-profit research and advocacy organisation, said PH must have remembered well from the first PH government, the coalition government just started to crack after the anti-ICERD rallies at the end of 2018.

PH later suffered continuous losses in a streak of by-elections, and popularity and its approval ratings started to decline. The new political reality forced the hands of BERSATU to break away from PH.

In Dr Lim’s opinion, Hadi Awang is trying to divert attention and launch his offence to the Unity government – though the word choice of ‘overthrow’ is controversial.

“Given the Anti-hopping laws do give leeway for political parties to choose their own coalition, the new governing coalition reshuffling might not be impossible, but for what reasons/benefits the current governing members want to ‘jump ship’ to be with PN? ”

“Currently I really see no apparent reason this could happen, unless in near future Anwar messes it up the coalition members’ relationship,” Dr Lim said.

Recent arrests and charges a ‘tremendous big blow’ to BERSATU

According to Dr Lim, the recent arrests and charges of BERSATU leaders have dealt a tremendous blow to the party’s leaders. Their party account has been frozen, which means they cannot operate their cash flow and pay their rent and staff.

“How could they be prepared for the upcoming six state elections? And all their donation proceeds are stuck there; the financial war chest is rendered useless now.”

Dr Lim also expressed concern that the prosecution has tainted BERSATU leaders with corruption, undermining their previous anti-corruption campaign during GE15.

While there may be political reasons and selective prosecution behind the investigations, there is also the question of how the party obtained the money and who their paymasters were.

Professor Chin, on the other hand, believes that the recent prosecution of BERSATU leaders will not significantly alter the political landscape of Malaysia.

“Everybody understands that the current unwavering government does not enjoy the support of the majority of the Malay voters.”

Anwar’s unity government does not enjoy the support of the majority of the Malay voters

James Chin pointed out that the majority of Malay voters sided with BERSATU and PAS, which together garnered more Malay votes than UMNO and PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat led by Anwar Ibrahim).

“So the current charges is all about positioning in this case, BERSATU has been positioning themselves as the clean version of UMNO. “

In other words, BERSATU is trying to convince Malay voters to vote for them by presenting themselves as a Malay nationalist party that is also clean, unlike UMNO.

“So by being charged with corruption, they cannot use that (moral high ground) anymore in the coming elections.”

Anwar needs to win at least three states in the upcoming six State Elections

According to Prof Chin, the current political instability in Malaysia is expected to be resolved by the upcoming six-state elections.

“If Anwar wants to lead a stable government, he has to win a minimum of three states, and the three states are Negeri Sembilan, Penang and Selangor.

Prof Chin also highlighted that if Pakatan Harapan manages to win Kedah, it would be a significant signal that Anwar’s government has won back the Malay ground.

Dr Lim commented that both Zahid and Anwar need each other to make it through this political turmoil.

“Without UMNO in the government, without the governing resources, Zahid’s position as UMNO president is becoming untenable. Without UMNO in the governing coalition make-up, the coalition is also unstable; it gives even stronger bullets to the opposition that the government is basically lacking in bumiputera/Malay’s strong presence.”

Therefore, Dr Lim suggests that UMNO’s decision to stay in the governing coalition would be the primary concern for the unity government.

Much easier for Malaysian Govt to fall if whole big block in coalition withdraws

In order to ensure the stability of the unity government, Anwar Ibrahim as the coalition leader may depend on certain political tools, such as the Anti-Hopping Law, and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed among the component blocks of the coalition: PH, BN, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).

However, James Chin dismissed the MoU as a mere public relations exercise, stating, “if we speak to the real players in the game right, they will tell you that the MoU is not worth the paper it signed on.”

He added that with the current Anti-Hopping Bill, it could be easier for the government to fall as it will no longer be just one or two Members of Parliament (MP) to defect from the coalition, but the entire party has to defect. For example, UMNO with 26 seats, and GPS with 23 seats in the current government.

“One of these pulls out, then the government is very shaky and may fall. So it is actually much easier with the Anti-Hopping Bill for governments to fall, because when you defect, the entire party has to defect.

Dr Lim stated that while the MoU can provide common ground for the parties, its most important aspect is the discipline and control of dissident MPs and ADUNs, which is explicitly stated.

As the MoU lacks clarity on policies, it is therefore important for the parties to combine their election promises and manifestos to establish a governing guideline and roadmap.

Influence of ‘green-wave’ restrained if opposition fails to cast doubts on Govt

Regarding the opposition coalition’s attempts to destabilize the Anwar Ibrahim administration, Prof Chin stated that those involved in politics aim to capture or be in government.

So in Malaysia, because the government has been formed through the fractious the last two times, people are thinking that, forget about the election since the election cannot come back with a decisive winner, so we might as well go for Coalition post-election.

Dr Lim suggested that the opposition may have learned from their previous experience in the first PH administration and see this as an opportunity to play the racial and religious card while championing Bumiputera/Malay rights.

After five years of being locked out of federal government resources, the potential for Pakatan Harapan to regain popularity under Anwar’s leadership exists if the Unity government succeeds.

This could also mean that the growing influence of the ‘green-wave’ or PAS uprising would be restrained if the opposition does not attempt to cast doubts on the government.

PAS unlikely to leave PN, for now

Despite the corruption charges against Muhyiddin and his declining influence in the coalition, James Chin believes that PAS is unlikely to leave the PN coalition because they still need a coalition to win in the elections.

But the fact that Muhyiddin and all the (BERSATU) senior leadership are gonna be charged for corruption, this in fact strengthened PAS. This means that Hadi Awang will basically be the shadow leader of Perikatan now as Muhyiddin is out of the picture.

Dr Lim added that while PAS is strong on its own, it recognized the need to partner with BERSATU to win enough seats to form the government in the last election.

“But PAS understands that if they go alone they could also hardly win enough seats to form the government, PAS picked the wise choice in partnering with BERSATU. “

He suggested that PAS may choose to distance itself from BERSATU should the latter continue to decline under Anwar’s government’s strategic political moves.

“You can already see that PAS did not come to defend BERSATU so strongly on the corruption charges when the latter is facing tremendous political pressure. This should remind you about the realpolitik and pragmatic politics that PAS has excelled and demonstrated in the past two decades.”

Will there be another Green tsunami?

On the topic of whether there will be another “Green Tsunami” in the coming Six States Election, Prof Chin said it is currently too early to make any predictions.

He stated that it would depend on various factors such as the mood during the Hari Raya festive season and how much money the government throws down, for example, the Special Aidilfitri assistance of RM700 for civil servants and RM350 for pensioners announced in Budget 2023.

“The idea is to create a very good mood,” he believed that it might impact how the Malay community will vote.

I think people are much more careful now, if you look at the voting pattern the last time around, a lot of the Malay community actually made-up their mind quite late in the game, so closer to the date, we will know much more accurately.

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