Let’s not forget one thing. Even if the chief architects of the emergency rule – Muhyiddin Yassin, Azmin Ali and Hamzah Zainudin – were successful, they would have only gone for a semi-emergency. It would be an emergency for politics only. Economic and social activities were supposed to carry on.
The cabinet was even contemplating not calling it an “emergency” – simply something Covid-related. To not spook the market.
The irony is that the intention of protecting the economy and society by maintaining a semblance of normalcy could have failed miserably in a semi-emergency rule anyway. Just by hearing something drastic as the emergency (whatever it is called) would be imposed, investors would have fled the country. They have been fleeing since the first quarter of 2020.
To the minds of most Malaysians, declaring a semi-emergency that suspends only political activities is the most explicit message yet: Politicians are not afraid to use any tool at their disposal for their private benefit. It would have been overkill, an exaggeration, a how-dare-you. “Abuse of power” has finally met its match.
Under three situations of a full-blown emergency, a semi-emergency, or a failed-emergency, there is almost no strategic and sustainable benefit to the chief architects. Above all, what this move has indicated was a loud cry of desperation by insecure men who would do anything to stay above water.
To their political enemies, this is good news. Because it is clear from this episode that Muhyiddin, Azmin (above), and Hamzah are desperate and insecure. Like a mirror reflecting their innermost anxieties.
The basic premise for an emergency is generally agreed: Avoid the parliamentary Budget 2021 test because Muhyiddin could fail when Umno pulls the plug. And if Muhyiddin fails, then a snap election could be called.
Even if a snap election is not called, Muhyiddin will not remain as prime minister. None of these permutations is favourable to Muhyiddin.
Azmin and Hamzah probably have advised Muhyiddin to go on the offensive – but in classic Azmin-Hamzah fashion. By deploying the politics of avoidance. And the emergency declaration was the overblown version of this.
Insecurity about Umno
It is clear by now that Umno has the upper hand. The worst part about it was that they know this. Often, they would love to dangle this show of strength in front of Muhyiddin by stating their support for Anwar, then renegotiating conditions of support with Muhyiddin, then indicating again that the support for PN is not permanent or 100 percent. Now, Najib has even told his BN allies that they could support Anwar.
This push-and-pull is designed like this. Umno thrives under an insecure prime minister who heavily depends on their support.
Muhyiddin knows this all too well. If he had his way, he would have tried to eliminate Umno or put some of them into cold storage. But he could not. His situation is not favourable enough to risk even the slightest of Umno’s support.
It does not help matters that Muhyiddin is well acquainted with the grumbling Umno grassroots who still feel that Muhyiddin and Bersatu are traitors of Umno. The memory of betrayal still lingers.
Although it is true that Umno’s best bet in the interim is still Muhyiddin (the alternative of working with Anwar and DAP requires too much a leap), Muhyiddin is still not convinced. Being the primary beneficiary of an outrageous coup in February, he is now tasting his own medicine. Nothing is impossible for politicians without principles; he has no insurance that Umno will stay by his side.
That is why as days stack up and he saw indications of Umno’s fickle-mindedness and some of their support for Anwar, he played the emergency card. From the hands of a desperate man.
Insecurity about a snap election
The other thing that the semi-emergency attempt reveals is that Bersatu’s bravado for the election was fake. Muhyiddin, Azmin, and Hamzah know that, in the event of an election, they would certainly not be returned as prime minister and senior ministers. They might even lose their seats – since there is no certainty that Umno would not compete against them.
It does not matter if Muhyiddin has soaring popularity at the moment. If he cannot run the most number of seats (wishing for Umno to compromise), and win most of them, he would be eliminated from the government entirely.
This is their best possible position. The government acquired by them was by coercion. If you need to step on many people to get up, then you should not be surprised for many wanting to pull you down. They have no friends, and they have no political capital.
Azmin and Hamzah, in particular, would not be able to carve out a safe seat for themselves, nor would they be able to lead a strong campaign team into victory. Accustomed to only the politics of the elites, they are aware of the limits of their abilities.
Against their challenges, their conclusion was to stall power as much as possible. But their method was to use the rare, dangerous and radical emergency rule as a shield.
Little did they know, the emergency rule was always a double-edged sword. Politicians only risk its application during the worst of times. When you use it indiscriminately, its curse turns against you.