Muhyiddin goes for broke

THE two men were seen to be too close for the comfort of many in Umno but Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob appears to have stepped out from the shadow of his predecessor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Their public and rather terse verbal exchange last week caused a stir even though Malaysians are quite used to former prime ministers running down the government, something that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad does on a regular basis.

However, it was the first time Muhyiddin had openly criticised Ismail Sabri for failing to manage the economy and jaws dropped when Ismail Sabri returned fire, reminding the former prime minister that he was partly responsible as the chairman of the National Recovery Council.

It was the moment many in Umno had been waiting for, to see Ismail Sabri drawing his sword against Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

“Ismail Sabri was quite diffident in the earlier days but their relationship looks a little rocky now. He is no longer acceding to the demands of Bersatu,” said political commentator Ivanpal S. Grewal.

But their “loveless marriage,” – as Ivanpal calls it – is about to end as the two parties prepare to face the general election.

The general opinion is that Bersatu will not do well in the general election but it will not be wiped out either.

“It lacks a clear political identity. What began as a party of protest (over 1MDB) morphed into a party of change in Pakatan Harapan and it is unfortunately now associated with betrayal,” said Ivanpal.

Nevertheless, Perikatan Nasional is likely to do well in Kelantan, Perlis, and Kedah.

PAS is still the preferred choice of Kelantanese but Kedah presents a golden opportunity for Perikatan given the unimpressive and ageing state Umno leadership.

Terengganu, if the local chatter is to be taken seriously, is also ready to swing again.

The next election, said ISIS senior fellow Eddin Khoo, will be tough for every party.

“I see a fragmented outcome, no single coalition will be able to form a government on its own. Every seat counts and every party, including Bersatu, will have its own advantage,” said Khoo.

Perikatan’s strength lies in PAS and it explains why Muhyiddin has been silent about PAS openly wooing Umno nor has he said anything about PAS wanting to use its own logo in the general election.

“But can PAS, with its leadership crisis, deliver on a national level?” Khoo asked.

Malaysia’s politics is like a circus with a Cabinet comprised of parties trying to bring down each other while the government is propped up with support from the Opposition.

Muhyiddin lost much of his clout after the Johor election which was seen as some sort of referendum on his leadership.

His coalition spent so much – their flags, banners and billboards of Muhyiddin outclassed that of Barisan Nasional – but the outcome was a letdown.

However, Perikatan’s share of the popular vote showed that Malays who previously supported Pakatan had thrown their votes to Perikatan and not to Umno.

It is not game over yet for the party.

“We will be wearing our Perikatan shirt, using our logo and we have also settled almost 100% of the seats,” said Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu who is the eternal optimist.

Many thought Muhyiddin would take a backseat in Bersatu after the Johor polls.

It would have been a good time for the party to press the reset button and begin a renewal process. Its second tier leaders like Ahmad Faizal, secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin and supreme council member Datuk Seri Azmin Ali are waiting in the wings.

But it seems like Muhyiddin intends to give it another go.

“He needs to be there to rally his party, to be the adult voice and to ensure that Bersatu is still there after the general election,” said Ivanpal.

He is the face of Bersatu and he has the ear of his senior partner, PAS president Tan Sri Hadi Awang.

Muhyiddin is a political heavyweight and Perikatan was able to garner more than 20% of the popular vote in the Johor and Melaka elections.

Together, Perikatan and Pakatan would be able to give Barisan a run for the money.

Yet, his overtures to Pakatan for an electoral pact were spurned.

Reasons for the rejection include his role in bringing down the Pakatan government and the fact that the Chinese voters cannot accept him or PAS.

The other factor is said to be his insistence on being the prime minister candidate.

Muhyiddin has never quite got over the way he had to give up the top job back in 2021 although he had only himself to blame for his misstep with the Palace.

Given all this, the next general election is likely to be a grand battle of three coalitions, with the exception of Sarawak.

But this weekend will be special and personal for Muhyiddin.

Family ties will take centrestage as Muhyiddin and his wife Puan Sri Noorainee Abdul Rahman mark their 50th year of marriage – their golden anniversary – at a six-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

It will be filled with family members because his late father, an ustaz, had several wives and dozens of children.

Noorainee has been the ideal political wife throughout the ups and downs in Muhyiddin’s long political career – always there but never obtrusive or controversial.

The golden event will be a sweet respite before what could be the most crucial election of his career.

“The next election is an ego trip for many politicians who should have exited by now. This one will be the last hurrah for many of them,” said Khoo.