Malaysiakini
OPINIONS

COMMENT | The cost of Muhyiddin’s overreach in Sabah

Liew Chin Tong

Published
Modified 24 Sep 2020, 7:18 am

COMMENT | Should Muhyiddin Yassin’s short stint as prime minister come to an end soon, who is to be blamed? Half of the fault lies with Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin while the other is squarely on Muhyiddin himself for trusting Hamzah as his chief political operator. And, Sabah would be the “beginning of the end” for Muhyiddin and Hamzah.

Hamzah was the chief plotter of the Sheraton Move coup, alongside former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and, to a lesser extent, Foreign Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. The troika positioned Muhyiddin as prime minister. Hamzah has been a relatively faceless but effective Umno political operative for most of his career, including operating for former premier Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor for a number of years.

After the 2018 election, Hamzah joined former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Bersatu and eventually used the party as a vehicle to launch a coup against the May 9, 2018 popular mandate for Pakatan Harapan. Azmin and Hishammuddin connect well with people but they have been on the pedestal as pretty faces. They are the front men while Hamzah is the brain and chief operative.

Hamzah is well-versed with old politics. However, the problem for him now is that the once-mighty Umno is no longer powerful nor feared. And no amount of resources the party has can help it gain the upper hand when the margin in Parliament is razor-thin.

If Muhyiddin was smart enough not to trust Hamzah, there would not have been the Sheraton Move. However, both of them were under the illusion that they could garner 130 MPs including Mahathir and Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal.

Nevertheless, they pulled off the coup only to realise that they had a bare minimum majority of three or four MPs. Due to the slim margin in Parliament, Umno as the biggest block and practically every single MP can threaten the prime minister at any time.

Hamzah Zainudin

After the May 18 Parliament opening by the King, I have been telling friends and foes alike that Hamzah’s usefulness to Muhyiddin has diminished as there would hardly be anyone crossing the floor after seeing how close the margin was.

The latest debacle – Hamzah’s Sabah venture endorsed by Muhyiddin – is an overreach of foolish proportions. In strategic terms, albeit much smaller in size, it was like Napoleon Bonaparte or Adolf Hitler opening two war fronts by entering Russia while fighting in Western Europe.

After the May 18 Parliament sitting when Hamzah failed to trigger new MPs to cross over individually, he trained his sight on Sabah, hoping to lure, threaten or break up the Warisan-led state government.

Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman was released from his 46 counts of corruption charges on June 9. Hamzah then went on multiple “shopping spree” tours in Sabah that resulted in Musa announcing that he had obtained a majority on July 29 which led to Shafie’s counter move of seeking the dissolution of the Sabah state assembly on July 30.

One would have thought after the failed move, Muhyiddin and Hamzah would cut their losses and move elsewhere. But, no. Both of them dug in.

They launched the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition in Sabah which was snubbed by Umno. Then Muhyiddin formed Gabungan Rakyat Sabah. He even announced a Bersatu candidate to be chief-minister-designate, to the chagrin of Umno. He also underestimated the deep-seated rivalries between Kadazan Dusun-majority Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Star despite both parties being his allies.


Read more: The who's who is the Sabah 2020 election


The list goes on. One mistake after another. More surprisingly, given that Bersatu’s Hajiji Mohd Noor or Umno’s Bung Mokhtar Radin were no match to Shafie in stature, Muhyiddin’s minders decided to make him (Muhyiddin) the “candidate” in the Sabah state election.

Hajiji Mohd Noor (second right)

This is a no-no in Sabah when anti-federal sentiments run high. It is comical to see Muhyiddin’s posters using the word “abah” to signify intimacy when Sabahans do not call their father “abah”. If there’s really a fatherly figure in the state, it is Shafie.

The prime minister also claimed that the Sabah election would be a gauge of his popularity which would guide him to call for a general election should PN win. I wonder what he meant by a PN win when BN and PBS are also contesting under their respective banner.

Muhyiddin’s main campaign line in Sabah is that voters should elect parties linked to himself and in the same coalition with the parties that run the federal government.


Read more: Sabah Decides 2020: Making sense of the players, parties and battles


The problem with that is PKR president Anwar Ibrahim’s press conference at Le Meridien Hotel Kuala Lumpur yesterday which had destroyed Muhyiddin’s premises for the campaign in Sabah – now no one knows if Muhyiddin would still be prime minister and whether PN would still be the federal government by next month.

Muhyiddin’s over-reliance on Hamzah, and Hamzah’s limited understanding of the world outside Umno's modus operandi of old politics, have led the prime minister into the contours of the hills of Sabah which is an unnecessary distraction to Muhyiddin’s national venture.

The end is nigh for Muhyiddin. 

This article was first published at liewchintong.com.


LIEW CHIN TONG is a senator and former deputy defence minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysiakini is currently providing stories on the Sabah polls for free. Continue to support Malaysiakini and independent journalism by subscribing for as little as RM20 per month.

Follow Malaysiakini's coverage of the Sabah state election here.

Share this story