Does Anwar Ibrahim still have what it takes to take over Putrajaya from Perikatan Nasional?
Malaysiakini took this topic to several political observers, seeking their take on the issue after the Umno Supreme Council decided on Monday that it would not work together with PKR and DAP.
According to James Chin, a political analyst and professor of Asian Studies, the outcome of the Umno council meeting has dimmed the chances of Anwar becoming a prime minister.
He said the opposition chief’s only hope to achieve his plan now would be through defeating the government’s Budget 2021, which would be tabled in Parliament next month.
However, it would not be an easy feat for Anwar if he were to attempt a coup via defeating the government’s budget bill.
For one, Chin said, Anwar would not have the support of Umno MPs after the party’s decision yesterday.
“I think at the present moment, the majority of Umno people would go for the status quo. This means Muhyiddin Yassin will still be the prime minister, and Anwar has lost his chance.”
Muhyiddin would also have no problem to get the budget bill passed, Chin claimed.
“Because – and most people don’t realise it – the budget bill is usually read three times. So, in between them, whichever MP can complain (about the budget), and they (PN) can give him an additional budget.
“So I don’t think he (Muhyiddin) would have any problem in passing the budget,” Chin added.
Last month, Anwar, who is PKR president, made an announcement claiming that he had enough number of MPs to form the government, thus sparking strong speculations that the Port Dickson MP had managed to get Perikatan Nasional (PN) government parliamentarians to cross the floor, including those from Umno.
Making the speculation stronger, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had, on the same day of Anwar’s announcement, said that many BN and Umno MPs have voiced their support for Anwar. However, scores of Umno MPs have since openly rebutted any view that they were part of Anwar’s plan.
Anwar had an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Oct 12, where he supposedly presented his numbers to Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. However, the palace in a statement later said that the opposition leader did not submit any name list to the King.
It was reported that the Umno Supreme Council meeting late on Monday evening had discussed the idea of supporting Anwar, but decided to uphold earlier decisions on not cooperating with PKR and DAP.
Agong calls for political stability
Another political analyst, Azizuddin Mohd Sani, is sceptical that there would be any attempt to shoot down the budget.
“Because PKR itself has also stated that it would support the (government’s) budget),” Azizuddin said.
For the record, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has issued a decree, telling all politicians to cease politicking during the Covid-19 pandemic so as to ensure political stability in the country.
It came amidst an attempt by the Muhyiddin cabinet to get the monarch to declare a state of emergency, which it claimed was necessary to combat the pandemic, but critics branded this as a move by the embattled prime minister to save his position.
Sultan Abdullah’s decree has been understood by political parties as an order to not cause any problem, especially those that can trigger a general election, which could spell a disaster to the country that now faces almost 10,000 active Covid-19 cases nationwide.
This has led to Anwar yesterday calling for the government and the opposition to take a bipartisan approach in crafting the Budget 2021, thus showing his readiness to support the bill, instead of using it as a de facto no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin.
Touching on Umno’s support for Anwar, Azizuddin said this would be another instance where the opposition leader fails in his bid to form a government.
“Looking at the current situation, Anwar still fails to become a prime minister if he does not have support from Umno, which before this was seen to be leaning towards him.
“Anwar was putting his hope on the failure of PN’s cooperation with Barisan Nasional, which would give Pakatan Harapan a better chance at taking over the government and thus making him a prime minister,” the Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturer added.
Umno split between Muhyiddin and Anwar
The issue of supporting either Muhyiddin or Anwar has torn the Umno leadership into at least two camps.
The most obvious ones are between former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, who appears to be leaning towards Anwar, against Hishammuddin Hussein, who is Najib’s cousin and an Umno vice-president during Najib’s time as the party chief.
This could be seen when Najib openly admitted that he had floated the idea of supporting Anwar against Muhyiddin during a meeting among BN MPs at the Putra World Trade Centre on Monday afternoon.
Hishammuddin, on the other hand, had announced his disapproval of Anwar on Facebook earlier this month, when Umno MPs were rumoured to be backing up the Harapan chairperson.
“I want to state clearly here that I do not support Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister. I am consistent – No Anwar, No DAP,” said the Sembrong MP who is also the BN treasurer-general.
Among those who took note of the split in Umno was Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Azmi Hassan.
Azmi said that Monday’s decision by the Umno Supreme Council to back Muhyiddin had less to do with Hishammuddin but more of the grassroots choice.
“This is not the first time for Umno to see such a scenario, where its leaders had differing views.
“If we look at this latest episode, the conflicting directions of party leaders are only secondary. Because the voice and desire of the party grassroots would be the determining factor.
“That is why the idea of supporting Muhyiddin takes the top, compared to Najib’s proposal,” Azmi said.
He pointed out that it would be very difficult for Anwar to become a prime minister without the support of DAP, and it is “very hard” to get Umno to work with DAP, for the DAP has been stigmatised as a Chinese chauvinist party.
The majority of the Umno Supreme Council members were also of the view that they must throw their support behind Muhyiddin to respect Sultan Abdullah’s wish to see less politicking during the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, analysts view Zahid as a weak president of Umno.
Chin told Malaysiakini that he believes Najib and his camp in Umno are trying to make a “big comeback”.
“My take is, if you ask me to guess, I would say that Najib and the rest of the gang are making a big comeback. They are trying to secure control of Umno without actually holding the positions.
“I think, after years, it’s quite clear that the majority of Umno members, or at least the leadership group, thinks that Zahid does not have what it takes to be an Umno leader,” Chin said.
Azmi also shares a similar take on Najib’s influence on Umno, saying that the former prime minister still holds significant weight in the party, despite not holding any critical position.
“This really makes it hard for Zahid, especially when there are different strategies in the party, like in this case on whether to support Muhyiddin or Anwar,” Azmi added.