The political turmoil in Malaysia, which has lasted for almost a year, has taken a new turn following the Emergency Order declared by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on 12 January. Although the sudden increase in Covid-19 cases has been referred to as the main motive for announcing a state of emergency, at this time, there is a reasonable suspicion that the pandemic is being used as an excuse by the ruling party to hold on to state power for as long as possible.
The Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, which took hold of government via a political coup back in February, last year, has so far failed to consolidate a lasting unity among its different components. Initially, it succeeded in elections and replaced several state governments; it was gaining the support of the people. Lately, however, a power struggle for political positions plus conflicts regarding the distribution of government executive power has created an open dispute among the main component parts of the coalition – United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM). For example, in the last Sabah state elections, they contested under separate banners and clashed in 17 of the state seats.
A declaration from a majority of UMNO members that they would refuse to continue working with the PPBM, as well as internal divisions taking place within the party, revealed that this government was unstable and nearing collapse. The former UMNO secretary, Annuar Musa, who was sacked by his party recently, revealed that high-profile UMNO members, such as Zahid Hamidi were conspiring with the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, to overthrow the prime minister, Muhyiddin and force out the PPBM government from power.
The motive behind the ‘Emergency’ announcement
Many believe that Muhyiddin announced an Emergency to avoid a coup attempt from any other party. Under the ordinances activated by the Emergency, not only will all national management tasks be transferred to departmental executives and bypassing the parliament, but the prime minister will also now wield enormous power, beyond the bounds of the existing democratic structures.
Muhyiddin tried to declare a state of emergency back in October, last year when the second wave of the Covid pandemic began to escalate in Malaysia. However, the palace, which has the final say in such matters, rejected the proposal at that time and allowed parliament to decide the political direction of the country. An intervention from the monarchy to save Muhyiddin, with his declining support, would not be interpreted as an impartial decision among the public. Furthermore, the monarchy also has ties with other politicians who often use each other to strengthen their respective positions.
However, with Covid-19 reaching thousands of cases a day and with increasing pressure from UMNO politicians who want to force a general election as soon as possible, the Emergency declaration has been more openly accepted by people. During the Emergency Order live telecast, Muhyiddin acknowledged that one of the main reasons for implementing it is to avoid any political crisis that could lead to an early general election.
Does the State of Emergency offer solutions?
The importance of effective government leadership in times of crisis like this should not be understated. The real question is whether the government is able to carry the responsibilities of handling the Covid-19 pandemic effectively. In fact, the second Covid-19 wave that has spread throughout Malaysia was caused by this government’s irresponsibility when they forced through state elections in the middle of a pandemic to gain more power. The Covid-19 cluster that developed during the Sabah state elections led to the revival of the pandemic which has spread throughout Malaysia. It is now topping 5,000 cases a day.
Since taking power, the government has not only changed the speaker of Parliament undemocratically and rejected any vote of no confidence in the prime minister. It has pulled in politicians from different camps to overthrow several state governments, using undemocratic methods. Although unemployment is rising and the economic crisis is devastating the poor, the PN government has only used this pandemic to strengthen its political position further.
At the same time, the government failed to provide adequate welfare to millions under ‘lockdown’ who have no means to survive. Although more than three hundred billion Ringgit (USD 73.8 billion) of public reserves have been spent in less than a year, the majority of the funds have been channelled to large private companies. Millions of poor people receive only crumbs from the table which fail to address the plight they are facing.
The 2021 Budget, with the largest allocation of public money in the history of Malaysia, still fails to provide a fair share to the working class and ordinary people who have made countless sacrifices for the country’s progress. On the other hand, like all previous governments in Malaysia, the PN administration prioritises the wishes of the wealthy capitalists who will, in return, shower the government politicians in wealth and luxury. Meanwhile, the working class – responsible for creating all the country’s wealth and all the private companies’ profits – are unfairly marginalised.
Although giant corporations, such as ‘Top Glove’, have accumulated extraordinary profits during the pandemic, the government has not imposed any ‘windfall’ tax on their abundant wealth. Additionally, these companies should take full responsibility for the spread of Covid cases among their migrant workers. They are mistreated, placed in cramped living spaces with inadequate facilities and subjected to violations of human and labour rights by their employers who break countless labour laws.
Big companies, that exploit both migrant and local workers, are allowed to operate as usual while generating huge profits. At the same time, ordinary people are instructed to make sacrifices for the good of the country. Despite giving numerous excuses to ordinary people seeking help, large companies continue to receive financial and welfare assistance from the government.
Capitalist politicians fail the people
Not just the PN government, but any government of the existing parties will only bring similar results for the masses. All mainstream politicians serve the capitalist system and always look after the interests of the elite who own all the wealth. None of Malaysia’s present MPs is willing to go against the wishes of the rich corporations and fight on behalf of working and poor people.
Opposition politicians from Pakatan Harapan (PH) revealed their true colours during their two-year reign in power. Under their government as well, the lives of the poor became increasingly miserable as the rich continued to add to their own wealth uninterruptedly.
PH also failed to play a leadership role in fighting for the people’s welfare in this time of crises. PH politicians and former PM Mahathir have only managed to criticise the 2021 Budget as unrealistic and unworkable due to the unhealthy state of the global economy. There are no demands and concrete solutions that bring the interests and welfare of the people forward.
In fact, Pakatan Harapan’s failure to decrease the economic problems faced by the people was a major cause of their collapse in early 2020. Their declining popularity among the increasingly frustrated workers and poor opened the door for opportunists to forcibly take over government control.
However, given the PN government’s lack of a strong foundation, it is in turmoil and suffering from internal divisions. Only the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed PM Muhyiddin to hold on to power by using the monarchy and a declaration of Emergency.
In the context of a global health epidemic, with people facing severe economic burdens, politicians are only focused on seizing power to safeguard capitalism. All the ‘party-hopping, back-stabbing and unethical behaviour demonstrated by mainstream politicians during the Covid crisis have created huge frustration and loss of confidence in all political leaders.
Alternative to capitalism
Organisations such as trade unions, campaigning groups, NGOs and so on are also failing to fight for the interests of the working class and common people. Most only passively look on at the depressing situation. They put continue to put their hopes in the same political and economic system that has been proven to betray the people time after time.
Millions are storing up their anger against the country’s economic and political elite and searching for a leadership that can help bring them out of the crisis they are facing. No tangible change in the lives of ordinary working people can be brought about without a fight against capitalism and its control over the country’s politics and economy.
A political party needs to be built that fights for a programme of decent wages, working hours and jobs for all, education and employment for young people, access to quality health facilities and protection of the environment. This means fighting for democratic socialism – public ownership of all major industries and banks under democratic workers’ control and management. In this time of crisis, such a programme can unite the working class and the common people of different backgrounds into a united struggle to end the rule of capitalists, landlords and corrupt governments.