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World Why Malaysia’s Politics Are Messy and What’s at Stake

11:11  29 september  2020
11:11  29 september  2020 Source:   bloomberg.com

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Malaysia ’ s first transfer of power in six decades was hailed as a milestone for transparency, free speech and racial tolerance in the multiethnic Southeast Asian state. Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake .

Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. Malaysian politics has been wracked with instability this year following the collapse of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government in February. While Muhyiddin eventually cobbled together a coalition and took office in

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s first transfer of power in six decades was hailed as a milestone for transparency, free speech and racial tolerance in the multiethnic Southeast Asian state. Two years later the young coalition collapsed amid an all-too-familiar mix of political intrigue and horse trading that stems in part from an entrenched system of affirmative-action policies that critics say fosters cronyism and identity-based politics. The political upheaval has brought back elements of the old regime into a shaky new government, which is confronted with public discontent over a weakening economy hobbled further by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. This week Anwar claimed to have a “convincing” majority to unseat Muhyiddin, and vowed to prove the numbers in a meeting with Malaysia ’ s monarch that has yet to be scheduled. It’s still unclear whether that will lead to another

Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. In his first address to the nation, Muhyiddin asked the people to allow him a chance to rule. “Give me a little time to set the main direction of this government and country under the new administration,” he said on Monday.

1. Why did tensions boil over?

Two veteran politicians, Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, pulled off a shocking election victory in 2018 that ousted then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was enmeshed in a massive money-laundering scandal linked to the state investment firm 1MDB. Mahathir, now 95, became prime minister again (he held the post from 1981 to 2003), with the understanding that he would hand over to Anwar at some point. Delays in setting a date -- as well as policy disputes within the unwieldy coalition -- led to tension that boiled over in late February. Mahathir abruptly stepped down and became interim prime minister. He then sought to strengthen his hand by forming a unity government outside party politics. But the king pre-empted his efforts on March 1 by naming Mahathir’s erstwhile right-hand man, Muhyiddin Yassin, as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister since independence from the U.K. in 1957. Mahathir has bemoaned his inability to introduce a no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin in parliament, but Muhyiddin also faces a challenge from Anwar, who said in late September he has enough support to form a new government.

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Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. For Malaysia , the political disarray comes at a bad time: The economy is already growing at the slowest pace in a decade, and faces more downside risk as the global coronavirus outbreak disrupts travel and business operations.

Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. Najib is a divisive figure in Malaysian politics , even as he remains popular in some quarters. Many Malaysians celebrated his conviction on social media, like former lawmaker Rafizi Ramli, who was imprisoned for leaking the

Mahathir Mohamad wearing a suit and tie: Malaysia Interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Announces Stimulus Package to Blunt Coronavirus Hit © Bloomberg Malaysia Interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Announces Stimulus Package to Blunt Coronavirus Hit

Mahathir Mohamad. Photographer: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

2. There’s a king?

Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy along the lines of the U.K., except instead of one constitutional monarch the title rotates every five years among the rulers of nine Malay states. The king, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, usually stays on the sidelines performing ceremonial duties, but is involved in major appointments like that of prime minister.

3. Who is Muhyiddin?

A 73-year-old career politician who rose through the ranks of the once-ruling United Malays National Organisation party. He was Najib’s deputy for six years before he was sacked in July 2015 after calling for greater clarity in the 1MDB investigations. He later joined forces with Mahathir to set up a new party, Bersatu, and became home affairs minister in his government. A cancer survivor who’s generally low profile, he’s perhaps best known for quipping in 2010 that he considers himself “Malay first” and Malaysian second.

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Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. Unity between the two long-time rivals will be key to the coalition’s ability to mount a challenge to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government. Muhyiddin assumed power after the king judged him to be the one most likely to gain the

Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition coalitions have called for snap polls to resolve the political uncertainty once and for all, as Muhyiddin was sworn into office in March after the collapse of a government that took power after a

Muhyiddin Yassin et al. posing for the camera: Malaysia King Names Muhyiddin as Premier to Succeed Mahathir © Bloomberg Malaysia King Names Muhyiddin as Premier to Succeed Mahathir

Muhyiddin Yassin. Photographer: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

4. What does ‘Malay first’ mean?

Some 56% of the country’s 31 million people are ethnic Malay (defined in the constitution as Muslim), and another 13% belong to other indigenous groups, according to 2019 estimates from the Department of Statistics Malaysia. Collectively they are known as bumiputera, or “sons of the soil.” There are also large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. Government policies give preferential treatment to bumiputera, traditionally seen as disenfranchised, in such areas as public-sector jobs, housing and higher education. Critics say the preferences have fostered cronyism and a dependence on state handouts and have prompted many educated minorities to look for work overseas, draining the economy of talent. But they are something of a “third rail” in Malaysia’s polarized politics. Mahathir’s appointment of Lim Guan Eng as finance minister, the first ethnic Chinese to hold the post in over four decades, sowed suspicion among Malay nationalists that their benefits would be eroded, costing the coalition support.

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Why did Mahathir Mohamad resign? What does the king have to do with it all? Your questions answered. Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake .

Why Malaysia ’ s Politics Are Messy and What ’ s at Stake : QuickTake. Mahathir had been prime minister until he abruptly resigned in February, saying he had The new party could pose a challenge for Muhyiddin as they both seek to court the same voter base -- Malaysia ’ s ethnic Malay majority.

5. So what can we expect?

Mahathir and Anwar, who are also Malay, had campaigned on a “New Malaysia” agenda aimed at boosting good governance -- including prosecuting Najib and his wife for corruption. Mahathir had appointed the country’s first female chief justice and lifted bans on previously blacklisted journalists. The parties in the new government, including Najib’s UMNO, are supporting a more conservative agenda favoring Malays, including measures to promote a stricter version of Islam. In a televised address on March 2, however, Muhyiddin pledged to be prime minister for all races and to strengthen government integrity. He also said he would pursue shared prosperity goals, referring to a pledge by the coalition he abandoned to promote equitable development and raise living standards. Despite being backed by UMNO, his administration has seen progress in resolving the 1MDB scandal, including a conviction for Najib, which has caused some UMNO members to grow discontented with Muhyiddin and push for a bigger role for the party.

Gobind Singh Deo, Anwar Ibrahim standing next to a man in a suit and tie: The Race to Lead Malaysia Comes Down to Two Long-Time Rivals © Bloomberg The Race to Lead Malaysia Comes Down to Two Long-Time Rivals

Anwar Ibrahim. Photographer: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

6. What about the economy?

The economy was already slowing before the pandemic hit and now could even see a contraction this year, according to the central bank, as trade and tourism suffer while a lockdown dampens consumption and investment. (An earlier forecast was for 4.8% growth.) The government has rolled out 305 billion ringgit ($73 billion) in stimulus packages, including a loan-payment moratorium, wage subsidies and cash handouts. Oil-related earnings also are in decline amid volatile crude prices, adding headwinds for exports and potentially undermining the government’s capacity to boost infrastructure spending, lift incomes and rein in government debt. Even before the pandemic, surveys found rising living costs and a lack of jobs had replaced corruption and abuse of power as voters’ top concerns.

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7. What about foreign relations?

They haven’t significantly changed. Malaysia has long been seen as one of Southeast Asia’s most stable countries and enjoys relatively warm relations with China, its biggest trading partner. Muhyiddin’s foreign minister issued a rare rebuke against China over its expansive claims in South China Sea, but the prime minister hasn’t echoed the criticism. Ties with Saudi Arabia and India have improved. Malaysia is still in China’s ambitious infrastructure program known as Belt and Road, although Mahathir canceled one deal and renegotiated another last year to cut costs. While Mahathir had regularly denounced the Trump administration over its trade policies and its Middle East peace plan, the U.S. is Malaysia’s largest source of foreign-direct investment. According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries cooperate closely on security matters, including counterterrorism and regional stability.

8. What does it mean for investors?

With some from the old government back in power, Mahathir had expressed concerns about possible meddling in the legal process, which could undermine investor confidence. Snap elections could be called if the new government proves unstable. The key stock index, which has been one of the world’s worst-performers since the 2018 election, slumped to its lowest since 2011 a day after Muhyiddin’s appointment, though by late September it had recouped most of the loss. The ringgit slid to the weakest in three years in March before regaining.

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