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No peace of mind for the man in Putrajaya

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Muhyiddin Yassin must be racking his brain trying to figure out how to fend off threats to Bersatu. Phlip Rodrigues imagines what the party president must be going through.

One can easily imagine Muhyiddin Yassin having sleepless nights before taking the fateful step of enlisting his party Bersatu in Muafakat Nasional.

He must be racking his brain thinking of ways and means of removing any threat to Bersatu before he calls for a general election.

Many disturbing thoughts assail Muhyiddin as he grapples with his next moves. He knows acutely the coalition he leads – Perikatan Nasional – is not a pact of jolly bedfellows but a marriage of convenience. 

Despondently, he thinks he is unable to improve PN’s flimsy majority. Why can’t more ‘frogs’ jump over to his side? Don’t they know their future is not with Umno or Pas? Isn’t Bersatu ruling the country?

The gloom thickens as Muhyiddin perhaps wrestles with the many ‘demons’ who incessantly mock his political impotence. 

Enemies and fake friends – inside and outside PN – don’t help his cause. One can imagine Muhyiddin wondering how to weaken or neutralise them. The urgency to do something drastic grows by the hour.

Take Umno, the birthplace of his political career. Muhyiddin has been uneasy with his former ‘home’ ever since he was sacked from the party. There is something odorous about Umno: segments of the party still reek of corruption, and associating with it will only bring Bersatu into disrepute.

Besides, Muhyiddin may suspect Umno is up to no good when it says it doesn’t want to be part of PN; he may also suspect Zahid Hamidi is playing politics.

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Zahid, the Umno president, thinks Bersatu is too weak and prefers to cast his lot with Pas under Muafakat. Why this love affair with Muafakat? The Umno president is miffed that Muhyiddin did nothing to save his former fallen boss, Najib Razak. And Zahid himself is fighting for his political life in the dock. 

Why should Muhyiddin worry about Zahid? The Bersatu president is probably thinking, let justice take its course, and the Umno president will not be a threat for now. 

But something else may be bothering Muhyiddin: he realises he is unable to dump Umno. The party may have lost its clout, but it is no pushover. Zahid may not be Umno’s standard-bearer when the election is called, but the party can still influence the Malay mind. 

Muhyiddin, however, may feel sure Bersatu has an edge over Umno because the latter has a lot of homework to do to rebuild its shattered house.

What strategy to use with Umno? Mulling over it, Muhyiddin comes up with the best available option: treat the party gently by keeping it contented with promises of some political goodies.

With Umno safely tucked away, or so he thinks, Muhyiddin is more at ease when he turns his attention to Umno’s allies in Barisan Nasional – the MCA, the MIC and Gerakan. No problem here. All these minnows have no choice but to come on board his ship.

But dark clouds of anxiety soon descend on him again. How to tackle Pas? This is a stronger rival whose Islamic credentials leave many Malay politicians wary. Bersatu cannot twist the Islamist party around its finger and order it to fall in line.

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Pas is a venerable political institution that captured large segments of the Malay imagination 65 years ago. Today, it continues to enjoy significant support with its uncompromising Islamisation agenda.

Muhyiddin is probably deep in thought over how to pull Pas president Hadi Awang over to his side.

But wait! Why does Pas keep insisting on a snap general election? If the Islamic party is a genuine friend, it should help Bersatu strengthen its hold on federal power first to prolong its stay in Putrajaya.

Muhyiddin is likely to harbour a deep suspicion about Hadi’s political ambition. Snap polls? Many believe Pas will win more seats than Bersatu. Some pundits predict Bersatu might even be wiped out because it was responsible for ruining a grand experiment called Pakatan Harapan.

That said, Bersatu and Pas also share a common ideology. Both are conservative in their outlook, both uphold Malay supremacy in national politics and both appear committed to the concept of Islamic democracy.

If this is the case, then it would appear that Hadi, Pas and Bersatu are on the same wavelength. Muhyiddin might realise choosing Hadi as his deputy prime minister could be a masterstroke and seal the ‘brotherhood’.

But the Bersatu president’s headache hasn’t ended. What to do with the non-Malay electorate? Bersatu needs their support to remain in the saddle. These voters represent a significant segment of the population that can swing the balance of power. The party may feel it needs a strategy that can rattle the ethnic Chinese and Indian support for the DAP and PKR.

To dent the popularity of these parties, what better way than to conjure up something to show that certain opposition leaders are political crooks dressed as knights in shining armour. When touring the country, bark out the message: “Look at your corrupt leaders! They are hypocrites! Don’t gamble your future on them!”

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That would be a shock-and-awe tactic. Shock the people with the news of the opposition’s own failings, and awe the public with the rectitude of Bersatu.

Then, with everything in order – Umno tamed, Pas neutralised or compromised, the DAP and PKR cornered – the Bersatu bandwagon would be ready to roll.

But before anyone can heave a sigh of relief, yet another problem emerges: why all these Bersatu defections?


Refusing to ride into the sunset

The nearly century-old man stands like a spectral figure straddling the political landscape. What to do with this crusty warrior, who refuses to ride into the sunset.

Instead, Dr Mahathir Mohamad has formed a new Malay-based party, Pejuang, which has already sparked a wave of low-level defections from Bersatu. He wants to be the prime minister again and again and again….

Muhyiddin keeps musing over his next move in the face of a gathering storm. And then he makes his grand move: he announces that Bersatu is joining Muafakat Nasional. It finally dawns on him that this pact is a bigger and stronger coalition than PN. With this strategic manoeuvre, won’t it solve all his problems? Won’t he continue to be PM of a grand alliance?

Just then the Bersatu president feels a ‘cold finger’ tap him. He looks around and he sees that spectral figure again.

Mahathir seems to be silently mouthing: Not so fast, kawan….

Phlip Rodrigues, a former journalist, is a keen observer of local events

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