Advertisement

As controversies put unity govt’s cohesion at risk, observers suggest PM Anwar step in sooner than later

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — Amid a growing rift within the unity government sparked by recent controversies, several political analysts have said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim needs to step in to nip the problem in the bud.

Speaking to Malay Mail, the observers said since the disparate political parties in the government coalition are unlikely to compromise over such matters, there needs to be a focus on mediation and taking a middle ground between them.

“For me, this coalition was never truly united anyway. It is a coalition of convenience. It is expected for the different coalitions to not see eye-to-eye because they come with different agendas,” said International Islamic University of Malaysia’s political analyst Syaza Shukri.

“If anything, the rifts among the coalition are truly due to certain political leaders who have fully bought into the unity government. It will continue to be a bumpy road because there’s little trust among some of the coalitions.

“The way I see it, the government, especially the PM, is really in a difficult position. Any move he makes would be unacceptable and unpopular with a certain segment of the population, and thus the leadership,” she added.

The concern of a rift came following a split in opinion between several Malay political leaders in Barisan Nasional’s Umno, and non-Malay ones including those in former adversary Pakatan Harapan and its component DAP, in issues such as the controversial sales of socks printed with “Allah”, the citizenship law amendment, the recognition of “bak kut teh” and Chinese New Villages as national heritage, and the vernacular education system.

In response, Syaza said that the best course of action for Anwar and his government is to let authorities handle such sensitive public matters which would then keep the coalition appear neutral.

However, she said there is also a need for Anwar to focus and develop relationships “among those in the middle.”

“Focus on what both parties can agree on and prove the government’s efficiency in getting things done. I believe the others will fall into rank,” she added.

Syaza also foresees challenges ahead, due to Umno now having to navigate in an unfamiliar terrain ever since it joined hands with other government coalition members even as the current political landscape demands compromises for effective governance.

“However, this need not be viewed negatively. Embracing a moderate approach that resonates with the majority of the populace could be beneficial for the government,” she added.

Meanwhile, senior researcher at think tank, O2, Anis Anwar Suhaimi said that the current divergence of opinions between Umno and the ethnic Chinese MPs, particularly those from the DAP, is of significant concern, given its roots in fundamental party principles.

“This prolonged ideological disparity, he said, poses a substantial risk to the coalition’s unity,” he told Malay Mail.

“History offers insight here, with precedents such as the dissolution of both Barisan Alternatif and Pakatan Rakyat, primarily due to ideological conflicts between PAS and DAP. Similarly, the post-GE14 downfall of PH was influenced by analogous sentiments,” he said, adding that such similarity should serve as a cautionary tale, which might potentially prompt Umno to reassess its position within the coalition.

Central to this reassessment Anis said, will be an acute awareness of public reaction and sentiment towards the ongoing issues. He added that such introspection and possible realignment are crucial, as the coalition’s stability and efficacy are dependent on harmonising divergent viewpoints.

Anis said that presently, the absence of meaningful dialogues or roundtable discussions between Umno and DAP signals a deepening rift, adding that the lack of established guidelines or mechanisms for resolving disputes within the coalition is also a critical concern.

“Without a framework for mediation and conflict resolution, the prospects for successfully maintaining peace and understanding between Umno and DAP are increasingly challenging. This situation suggests a growing divide, with potential implications for the coalition’s stability and future direction.

Anis also concurred with Syaza, adding that Anwar faces complex challenges in mending the divisions within the coalition, adding that the latter’s response to the “Allah” socks issue was to appease Umno.

“His initial response to the KK Mart socks issue is a case in point. By emphasising the importance of upholding the law and ensuring punishment where guilt is established, Anwar aims to placate Umno, a key member of the coalition. This approach reflects his understanding of the coalition’s dynamics and the need for a balanced response,” he said, pointing to Anwar’s history of forging alliances across political divides.

“However, the current landscape presents distinct challenges. The ruling coalition faces a lack of favour among Malay voters, Umno’s non-membership in PH, and its past dominance as a political party adds layers of complexity to the situation,” Anis explained.

To restore cohesion within the government, he said that Anwar’s approach needs to be innovative, by aiming to reconcile two ideologically opposite spectrums and anticipating and mitigating future ideological or political differences.

This is especially when Anwar needs to manage the complexity of addressing internal disagreements which are heightened by the need to respond to an increasingly polarised and vocal public opinion, he said.

However, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political scientist Azmil Tayeb said that compromises may be hard to achieve especially coming from Umno.

“So far we’ve only seen compromises, acquiescence and silence coming from the PH side of the Madani government.

“The issue is more about Umno losing Malay voters and now trying hard to win them back by showing it’s the real defender of Malay and Islam in Malaysia. For as long as the Malays stick with Perikatan Nasional, Umno will continue to feel insecure and keep playing up these sentiment-driven issues,” he said.

Azmil pointed out that the government is made up of an alliance of convenience and hence, the component parties do not have to compromise their agendas to be part of the coalition.

“Hence, we are seeing the fragmentation. Umno is acting according to the way it thinks the wind blows in the Malay community.

“So instead of dousing the flames, Umno fans it instead to make itself in line with the general mood among the Malay community,” he suggested.

Most recently, ministers such as Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing and Nga Kor Ming have called for calm even as Umno Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh doubled down on his call for a boycott against KK Mart for the sale of the socks.

Akmal had also accused vernacular schools of hampering national unity, prompting Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek to assert that the government has no plan to change the system.

The recent citizenship law amendment was also reportedly opposed by some DAP lawmakers, despite being championed by Home Minister Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail. The amendments have since been withdrawn by the government.

Prior to that, some Umno leaders have also been critical of the inclusion of bak kut teh in the national heritage food, and Nga’s suggestion for Chinese New Villages to be recognised as heritage sites.