M'sian opposition have not learned from mistakes, too focused on power struggles: Syed Saddiq

Syed Saddiq envisions his political party, MUDA, as a "disruptive" element to Malaysia's politics.

Sulaiman Daud | January 25, 2021, 09:38 PM

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Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman may no longer be a cabinet minister, but he's still deeply involved in politics.

He had some views on the state of the political opposition in Malaysia, as well as stating that the Malaysian government did not need to institute a state of national emergency to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Emergency wasn't declared to control the pandemic

The former Youth and Sports Minister said:

"I personally do not think and believe that the state of emergency was declared to deal with the Covid pandemic, because the reality is the Covid pandemic could have already been dealt with (by) sufficient laws, especially to the calling of the movement control order (MCO) like the first time.

But it's clearly to stop another round of defections among MPs, which will lose, which will cause the government to lose (its) majority. Because at the time in which the emergency was called, the government already lost majority, or at least was just a few hours away from losing majority when it was declared in the morning, then at noon another MP withdrew support, which led the government to no longer hold a majority in Parliament.

Because they are a dissatisfied segment in government, who no longer want to support this government, but causing a crisis in the middle of a pandemic is not necessarily the best of options as well."

Muhyiddin remains in charge due to emergency

Syed Saddiq was speaking at an Asia-Ready Webinar on Jan. 23, co-organised by Singapore's National Youth Council and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs as part of its Asia-Ready Exposure Programme.

The programme aims to provide short-term immersion exposure for youths in Singapore, but due to the pandemic, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Muar in Johor appeared via Zoom.

On the loss of the Muhyiddin government's majority, he appeared to be referring to the fact that on Jan. 12, the day the national emergency was declared, UMNO MP Nazri Aziz announced the withdrawal of his support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin's government.

Together with the defection of another UMNO lawmaker days before, Muhyiddin would have officially lost the majority and his government would have fallen.

But due to the national emergency, he remains in charge, and parliament sittings are suspended, which ostensibly prevents any bid to oust his administration.

Syed Saddiq commented that this was "atrocious" in his view, as he believes that parliament is the "beating heart" of Malaysian democracy. He added:

"I think that some in (the) government are fearful of having the parliament on because when they no longer hold the majority in parliament confirming that there's no majority, then obviously, it will lead to even greater problems for the ruling government."

Difficulties faced by people in Johor

As for the emergency itself, Syed Saddiq expounded on the impact it has had on his constituents in Muar, saying that more people are slipping into poverty.

Most Malaysians were able to handle the first major MCO in March 2020, as there were cash handouts, their own savings and a blanket moratorium on loans. But there is less support from the government this time around, he said.

He also pointed out that while students are shifting to home-based, online learning, many families do not have access to the proper devices.

He added that as an MP, he is doing what he can to help out, but as an opposition MP, he has less access to funds.

Going his own way

Syed Saddiq worked closely with Mahathir during their time in Bersatu, and they were expelled from the party around the same time.

But instead of joining Mahathir's Pejuang party, he decided to form his own political party called the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA or Muda). The acronym is also the Malay word for "young", which fits its youthful leader.

Syed Saddiq revealed that when the Sheraton Move occurred in early 2020 and Pakatan Harapan was ousted from power, he felt disenchanted and almost quit politics altogether.

He felt particularly hard-hit as one of Bersatu's co-founders. However, he said that he had to keep "marching forward" and not give up.

But why not join Mahathir again?

Syed Saddiq feels that Mahathir's Pejuang party is race-based in nature, whereas he believes there is a need for a strong disruptive force in Malaysian politics which combines young, fresh faces and the multi-racial, reform-centered nature of Malaysia.

He compared the party to a "start-up" that could disrupt and shake Malaysian politics, outlining the three principles of the party:

  • Muda must be run like a political start-up, it must be disruptive.
  • It must be multi-racial.
  • It must be policy-centered.

He pointed out that due to Malaysia's political system, with the possibility of multi-cornered fights, a small bloc of MPs can determine how Malaysia is shaped, and he wants Muda to play that role.

Keep your eyes on the ball

Syed Saddiq also had some choice remarks for some members of the opposition, saying that they have not learned from "past mistakes."

Instead, they appear more focused on "continuous power struggles" for the Prime Ministership, instead of coming up with a new narrative to unite the nation and bring it out of the pandemic.

"Even when when we (are) no longer are in power, we're still fighting about who should become the Prime Minister among the opposition.

So, really, I think, if this continues, people will be disenchanted, disgusted, and there'll be low voter turnout. And any election with low voter turnout always hurts the opposition the most. For that, you really you need a new force to disrupt Malaysian politics."

PKR's Anwar Ibrahim, the current Malaysian leader of the opposition, has called for MPs to write to Malaysia's king to withdraw the emergency proclamation and reconvene parliament as soon as possible.

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Top image from Syed Saddiq's Facebook page.