AUG 27 — 63-year-old deputy prime ministers either show resolute faith in the one man above them or plan their own immediate rise. In Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s case you won’t be faulted to bet on the latter, based on latest developments.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is no Tun Ghaffar Baba, the long serving deputy to Tun Mahathir Mohamad in the late 80s and early 90s, who left office quietly and without any intention of rocking the boat.
My prognosis is that Muhyiddin is setting probably a 3 year, if not sooner, timeline to displace Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Firstly, all politicians intend to rise higher, move further in their careers. Politicians run for things or retire. Therefore you cannot admonish Muhyiddin for having ambition however the unsettling of the national landscape to one which suits his politics to a tee has more than a few observers worried.
Religion under siege, a people thwarted from their rightful inheritance, race unity disparaged and minorities building their wealth on the backs of the weak — even Joseph Goebbels could not have written the script better, but in this case approved media, a has-been led right-wing group, a collection of envious NGOs and a faction in Umno are working in tandem to cause Malay resentment.
It is building up to a time where only a leviathan, a true race supremacist can lead. And as it stands Muhyiddin is the most senior and openly aligned to that paradigm. He believes in Malay supremacy in all things Malaysians coupled with a willingness to be benevolent to ‘other Malaysians’.
Again, Muhyiddin is not the first supremacist Umno leader, and those before him have been highly successful.
What frustrates people, the progressives inside and outside Umno-BN, is that despite the clamour for more reforms beyond those envisioned by the Badawi administration to fully meet the modern aspirations of modern urban Malaysia, Muhyiddin and his ilk are convinced that the soft-reforms of the same previous administration which led to Umno’s wane.
Two different schools branching out of the Badawi period. A bolder exploration from the Badawi baby-steps as loudly proclaimed by Najib’s 1 Malaysia but not backed by brave acts versus a simpler and direct intention of reverting to what worked before in the Mahathir years.
And many Malaysians — who have never seen the inside or even the outside of a political prison — yearn for Mahathir’s 90s. Muhyiddin’s supremacist ideas are outmoded to a world scraping-off the cold war and embracing diversity, but for dysfunctional Malaysia half a century of education supporting an artificial reality, strong government spending, large bureaucracy and institutionalised race wedges a vote for the obsolete is more than possible.
A Muhyiddin administration may end up being an unequivocal disaster, but winning the Umno presidency only requires party support. This is where his gambit might be stronger than Najib’s.
Prior to March 2008, the Johor man was an Umno strongman without being overly ambitious. He was happy to follow the conveyor belt approach of the feudal party up to the 12th general election.
His private sector experience with state GLCs, a decade as Johor mentri besar and then a dozen years as federal minister make interesting read. It seems the next few years will eclipse all that.
Muhyiddin was first high ranking Umno man to ask Badawi to resign. He beat Najib to the punch, and the early talk was a direct challenge for the presidency. Both a Badawi exit plan and Najib’s overture, made him retract one step back but bypass others to be the natural pick for number two — upsetting a certain Datuk Seri Ali Rustam.
Najib struck a strategic move locking-up Muhyiddin in the labyrinth which is the education ministry, cutting his stay in the high-profile low risk ministry of international trade and industry to less than a year.
Muhyiddin is a local graduate in sync with the bureaucrats of the ministry. None of his programmes will happen at the expense of the civil service and only measures to strengthen his Malay-ness will he champion aggressively. Case in point the reversion to Malay language for mathematics and science in schools.
The ministry will not undo the former mentri besar. He might actually flourish.
The thing about the supremacist agenda, you don’t have to prevaricate or complicate. The concepts are fairly primitive, direct and connect to a population hard-wired to mistrusting complexities.
Najib’s difficulty is his want to tie up a presumed Malay dominance with an open modern policy of diversity and opportunity. Nice to hear, something for everyone but lacking in real substance.
His father’s Barisan Nasional manoeuvre in 1972 is dated. The present reaching out to PAS, keeping all Indian-based parties in his fold, allowing Gerakan to look relevant, keeping alive discussions of direct membership to the BN and other inclusive policies beg the question — if you want all in, who is out? If no one is out, then what are you opposing?
Where do you run when the forces in your half of the field force you to pick between Malay supremacy and your undefined future?
Najib’s dad worked with a Johor man different from Muhyiddin as his deputy — Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman — who was willing to carry the Razak agenda.
The truth is both Najib and Muhyiddin play the Razak card. It is double-speak. But in a more manageable, less affluent and Internet free 70s double-speak and totalitarianism were hip.
In this sequel, Najib is focussing on the grander and complex of full-inclusion ala BN, and Muhyiddin just rather return to race dominance, before dealing with other problems.
But when will the empire strike?
There will be an election within 2 years that much is certain. If the energy of 1 Malaysia weakens considerably by then, and a Sarawak election bears bad tidings for Najib, then the time might be after that general election.
Muhyiddin needs BN to be comfortably in power after national polls without picking up substantial traction since 2008. Giving the impression little has been done to restore Umno’s status as the juggernaut. Just winning is not enough for Umno.
It is unlikely that the battle will culminate with an open challenge at party elections, even if they manage to dismantle the delegate voting mechanism. The game in Umno is to take the fight out of someone, let rumours grow of an inevitable change and then look on as the guy before leaves before losing face.
Despite all the fine suits, F1 parties, Monsoon Cup dos and posturing, in the party the concept of shame is highly regarded. Differences in Umno except for the 1987 party elections and 1998 Anwar sacking are just figments of the imagination of overzealous political scientists.
This looks like Muhyiddin’s path to power if you ask me. I still can’t see Najib’s plan though.