Malaysia’s shapeshifting politics signal trouble ahead

SINGAPORE – Six months since his appointment as Malaysia’s premier, Muhyiddin Yassin now finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

With his ruling coalition of convenience mired in internecine strife, a new party launched by his bitterly estranged predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, threatens to weaken further his standing ahead of anticipated snap polls.

Though a general election is not due until late 2023, speculation is rising that a vote could be held within the next six months. Electoral considerations have already forced Muhyiddin to find new footing within a tangle of overlapping political alliances as he seeks a racially inclusive strategy to broaden his party’s appeal.

While Muhyiddin’s popularity has grown on his perceived as competent handling of Covid-19, open divisions in his informal Perikatan Nasional (PN) governing pact, the pandemic’s economic fallout and discontent over controversies involving ministers flouting virus control measures have ended his political honeymoon.

With a mere two-seat parliamentary majority, Muhyiddin found himself up against a wall when leaders from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the largest bloc in his coalition, said they would not formally join the PN coalition following the sentencing to jail of former UMNO leader and ex-premier Najib Razak for corruption in late July.