Monday, 26 Oct 2020

Trust deficit for Malaysian politicians widens as power tussle shadows fresh coronavirus lockdowns

KUALA LUMPUR – The trust deficit between Malaysians and their politicians have apparently grown wider, with yet another power struggle amid a worsening Covid-19 situation.

Residents are bracing for another round of restrictions as infections surge in the aftermath of a recent state election.

Several people – all of whom were masked – on Tuesday (Oct 13) carried a banner in Bahasa that read “Rakyat menderita. Politikus peduli apa?” (People are suffering. What do the politicians care?) and stood in front of six federal government ministerial buildings and agencies, moving from location to location.

The action by the group, which was posted on the Twitter feed of citizen movement called “Gerak Malaysia”, follows the appearance of several banners in other parts of the country criticising politicians for their role in the recent resurgence of infections.

A particularly vulgar one – “F*** politics. 317 cases” – was found in Ipoh last week.

The spike in Covid-19 cases followed the Sabah state election on Sept 26. In the run-up to the poll, politicians descended on the state to campaign even though there had been an outbreak at one of its detention centres. Some of these politicians as well as state residents who went home to vote were infected when they returned to the mainland.

Malaysia’s Covid-19 numbers hit new highs repeatedly since the end of the Sabah election, with 691 daily infections reported last week.

The mounting case numbers prompted the federal government to impose partial lockdowns, and from Wednesday, almost a third of the country’s population were affected – in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Sabah.

In spite of the worsening situation, political turmoil continued to grip the country, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s bid to become prime minister. He met the King, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, on Tuesday and claimed that he now had the majority in Parliament.

Soon after the meeting, Umno, the biggest party in the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition, threatened to pull out of it, throwing further doubt on the future of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Many Malaysians were already upset with the politicians for pushing for the Sabah state poll, and blamed the fresh restrictions or the so-called Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) on the country’s leaders.

The topics CMCO and Umno started trending on Twitter late on Tuesday, with the disgust quite apparent.

“Thank you government for doing such a great job fugging up our lives so well,” a Twitter user with the handle Steve Mak posted.

Another Twitter user Aymn Hzwani quipped that the people needed reminding about how awful the year has been to them.

“Not because of the pandemic but because of the incompetence,” the user said.

Like many others, Twitter user Shareen Hakim’s ire was aimed at Umno, saying: “Other than hardcore Umno, who is gonna work with or vote for Umno after this.”

Analysts agreed that people were more concerned about the pandemic than politics.

“I think it is not only distrust but also anger directed towards politicians who are blamed for the increase of Covid-19 cases, especially with #KlusterMenteri (ministers’ cluster) trending on social media. Many already feel that the politicians are in their own political bubble and not in touch with the electorate,” BowerGroup Asia director Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani told The Straits Times.

Mr Asrul Hadi said that the people were more concerned with the pandemic and how the latest restrictions will affect their livelihoods.

“I think there’s growing anger and disillusionment from some members of the public with regard to the political shenanigans taking place. On social media, there is a general sense of disapproval with regard to what is taking place (government instability, Anwar Ibrahim’s planned takeover) and they generally want a government (with whoever is prime minister) to provide some clear pathway to deal with Covid-19,” said Mr Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, a senior associate at Vriens & Partners, a government regulatory affairs and political risk consultancy firm.

Mr Shazwan said that there might be a very low turnout should Malaysia go to the polls soon.

“Unlike Singapore, the Sabah election has shown how little prepared Malaysia is for an election in a Covid-19 era,” he said.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin previously hinted at a snap election should PN win the Sabah poll.

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