OPINION: Muhyiddin's predicament

KUALA LUMPUR (Sin Chew Daily/ANN) - PM Muhyiddin is writing to Tun Mahathir to seek a meeting said to be for reconciliation to fulfill the wish of majority of PPBM members for unity among the party's top leaders.

PM Muhyiddin is holding out the olive branch, writing to Tun Mahathir to seek a meeting said to be for reconciliation to fulfill the wish of majority of PPBM members for unity among the party's top leaders.

It doesn't matter what the purpose of the meeting is, but it shows Muhyiddin's dilemma. He hopes to mend the crack and have the party wholly backing him so that he can address the many problems facing the country with nothing to worry.

He announced his vision through his TV speech that he wanted to be a prime minister for all Malaysians and form a capable and clean cabinet, improve the country's education, promote economic development and narrow the wealth gap, lead the country towards more glorious years ahead and save the country from sustained political turmoil, among other things.

He will not be able to fulfill these wishes without a strong political will, a fully cooperative team and a farsighted think tank. While the ideals are great, reality could be very cruel.

To be a PM for all will require him to take care of every ethnic group, every social class, every state, every region and every religion in this country. Unfortunately, the major component parties of Perikatan Nasional government, namely PPBM, Umno and PAS, are staunch believers of racism and religionism, not to mention sky-high expectations the Malay society has from the "Malay grand unity government". How is Muhyiddin going to evenly distribute the country's resources without prejudice and preference? Not even a very moderate Abdullah Badawi could do that, let alone a new alliance put together by their common racist ground.

As a matter of fact, Muhyiddin is now treading on thin ice in the face of tremendous political and economic problems.

PN component parties have very different political ideologies to begin with, and the Sarawak GPS is only keen to join the cabinet but not the alliance, lest PAS' theocracy will tip the equilibrium in the state politics, in particular with the GPS having to face mounting challenges from Pakatan Harapan in the coming state elections.

GPS has made it very clear that it will fight for the rights granted to the state in the 1963 Malaysia contract, in addition to oil royalty. Muhyiddin must take into account whether Sarawak's demand for more autonomy will backfire and weaken the powers of federal government.

In addition, will Muhyiddin be able to control Umno and PAS and will PAS be happy with the cabinet positions offered? Although it is the prime minister's prerogative to appoint cabinet ministers, given the fact PPBM has fewer parliamentary seats than Umno, internal squabbles and infighting are inevitable.

Conditions in various states will also be a big headache for the new PM. The state administrations of Johor, Melaka and Perak are very much Malay-centric and may not go with the federal government. Meanwhile, Selangor, Penang and Sabah represent a completely different political tectonic plate and disputes are bound to surface in near future.

Unless Muhyiddin manages to get Tun M on his side and the two factions within PPBM get united once again, the party will continue to come under heavy pressure from its greedy PN allies.

As if that is not enough, Muhyiddin is also confronted by absolutely tacky economic problems. The country's economy is suffering the major impact from the coronavirus outbreak and risks sliding into a recession.

The RM20 billion stimulus package unveiled by Mahathir on Feb 27 may not be sufficient to bail out the ailing economy because tourism and related industries are not the only sectors affected by the virus, but the manufacturing and other industries as well.

With the country now experiencing a second wave of coronavirus outbreak, many large gatherings have been postponed and economic activities halted. With gloomy global prospects as a result of the deepening COVID-19 crisis, the risks are simply too large for us to overlook.

Asian Development Bank's latest study shows that the viral outbreak will have tremendous impact on the economy of Asia's developing countries. Malaysia's economic loss could sum up to US$3.997 billion or approximately RM16.7 billion. Even the most modest estimate will put the loss at US$831 million or RM3.5 billion, equivalent to 0.23% of the country's GDP.

In addition to a second stimulus package, the PN government must also state its economic policies clearly in a bid to lure back foreign investments. With PAS being a component of the new government, drawing long-term foreign investments could be an uphill task because of uncertainty in government policies.

If Muhyiddin is serious about taking the country towards greater excellence, he must implement pragmatic reforms because to be a respected country, we will need to put aside all racial and religious conflicts, reform our education sector and uphold meritocracy. A country that keeps beating around narrow-minded racial issues will not be able to achieve that, as evidenced by our own experiences during the past 60 years.

Muhyiddin is taking over the country at a wrong timing when the country is badly hit by both political as well as economic crises. The PM must prove to the country that the "Malay unity government" he has been championing can do much better.

We have already wasted two whole weeks because of political turmoil. As such, there is no honey moon for the new government and they have to get down to work immediately and prove their worth.

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