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COMMENT | Political season, June 2021

COMMENT | It's political season in Malaysia – again. This is the time of year when political leaders go visiting. The pattern over the last two years is it is usually associated with a crisis – both a cause and result. It is a time when elites decide Malaysia’s leadership, with claimants appealing and dealing.

If it was not such a serious matter, one could get the impression that there is a new play opening with the same actors and a varied calibre of performances.

The fact is that what happens (or does not happen) over the next few weeks will determine who will helm Malaysia, for how long and at what cost. The decisions being made are not easy, with those involved assessing their interests and their visions of what is good for the country. At stake is the country’s fabric of democracy, its quality of governance and, given the handling of Covid-19, lives.

Two catalysts have re-instigated the politicking. Foremost is the reality that Malaysia is facing the most serious crisis in its history – and struggling. No one in the country needs to be retold of the realities. This is the first crisis the Malaysian government has not been able to buy its way out of.

In earlier crises, from the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998 to even May 1969, the country was able to use resources to redress disgruntlement, and, if necessary, appeal to race-based politics to galvanise support and divide the opposition. Today, with worrying widening inequality and increasing vulnerability arising from the socio-economic consequences of Covid-19, the country is unified in its unhappiness.

From Sandakan to Setiawan, Baling to Bachok, Mersing to Masjid Tanah and Padawan to Puchong the political ground has hardened. While PN retains considerable support, it does so largely by being the incumbent or relying on personal loyalties/patronage. PAS and GPS arguably also retain support from their own traditional bases.

The crisis – no matter how limited testing rates are for Covid-19 - has brought home to many that Malaysia’s current governance is not at the standard that many expect or want or need. The nature of Covid-19 requires a ‘whole-of-society' resolution and broad public trust. Muhyiddin Yassin’s more prominent appearances after the tragic LRT crash and firing of Umno stalwart Tajuddin Abdul Rahman has not fundamentally staved off declining support.

The second catalyst for politicking is the ... 

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