PM Muhyiddin's claim that rod not spared for ruling elite heightens anger at Malaysian govt over Covid-19 surge
KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysians’ souring view of the government’s role in the current resurgence of the coronavirus outbreak has led to calls for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to step down amid persistent claims by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration has lost its parliamentary majority.
Just three hours after Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s televised address on Tuesday evening urging people to abide by regulations to curb the resurgent coronavirus outbreak, #MuhyiddinOut became the top trending hashtag among Twitter users in the country.
It remained at No. 2 – behind Korean-turned-Mandopop superstar Lay Zhang’s birthday – on Wednesday afternoon as Malaysians signalled their frustrations at daily new infections repeatedly breaking record highs in the past week.
While some criticised the hashtag as shortsighted and unfair to the Prime Minister, most were incensed by his denial of double standards that favour members of the administration in enforcing rules mentioned in his speech.
A tweet by @michelelehhh, pointing out how a nasi kandar operator was fined RM12,000 (S$3,900) and jailed five months for breaking home quarantine, while Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali was fined only RM1,000, garnered more than 9,000 shares as of Wednesday afternoon.
In his address, Prime Minister Muhyiddin exhorted the nation to abide by standard operating procedures (SOP) and orders issued by the government by insisting that punishment would be meeted out “without regard for rank and status”.
“Sorry if Daddy has to use the cane (rotan)!” he said, making a reference to the “Abah” (Malay for father) moniker he has gained among Malaysians since taking power in March.
But some Malaysians expressed disgust at the light-hearted reference in a speech addressing a disease that has afflicted 13,504 and killed 141 people in the country. The words “Abah” and “rotan” were also trending until Wednesday afternoon.
“It has been eight months since Covid19 came to Malaysia and all we get from our PM today is ‘abah rotan nanti’. Mind u, a one-year old baby died today in Sabah. The death could have been avoided if there is no double standard and changes in SOPs,” said Twitter user @neur__ in a post that has been “liked” more than 1,300 times.
While the opposition predictably called on the PM to whip his own ministers first, it was surprisingly echoed by the Malaysian Chinese Association, a member of the ruling pact.
“If the public is being fined RM1,000 just for slightly pulling down their mask for a moment, yet ministers are getting away with it for obviously flouting the SOP, are we not ashamed when we make bold claims of ‘no double standards’? If Abah wants to ‘rotan’ the wrongdoers, start with those on top, and those at the bottom will follow willingly,” said its spokesman, Mr Mike Chong.
Mr Muhyiddin’s approval rating has stood at above 70 per cent up until August on the back of 93 per cent satisfaction in the government’s handling of Covid-19. But with daily infections hitting new highs on four of the past six days (peaking at 691 on Tuesday) and expected to breach 1,000 by this weekend, public opinion has started to turn.
“A sustained surge of cases would undermine (Mr Muhyiddin’s) legitimacy at a time of continued political instability in Malaysia,” risk consultancy Eurasia Group’s Asia director Peter Mumford told The Straits Times.
Despite his coalition – whose 113 MPs hold a wafer-thin majority in the 222-strong Parliament – wresting Sabah in the Sept 26 polls, grumbles from his largest ally, Umno, have peaked after it ceded the state’s chief ministership to the Prime Minister’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
The growing tension between Umno and Bersatu also coincides with Datuk Seri Anwar claiming on Sept 23 a “formidable majority” but not revealing who had defected from PN.
Top leaders from his Parti Keadilan Rakyat told The Straits Times that he briefed MPs from the party this week that he would soon present proof to the King, who was discharged from hospital last Friday.
The campaigning across Sabah – home to several infection clusters at the time – last month also saw many politicians from the ruling pact bringing the virus back to the peninsula. This has stirred up public angst over PN’s move to engineer defections in July which triggered the vote, and many community infections in the current wave are being mockingly referred to as the “ministers cluster”.
De facto Islamic Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad tested positive on Monday after attending a National Security Council meeting two days earlier, leaving a host of top officials, including Mr Muhyiddin and all four senior ministers, in quarantine until the end of next week.
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