Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s first year as Prime Minister of Malaysia

By Chandra Muzaffar

Any fair-minded person would acknowledge that for a whole year Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has managed the affairs of the nation relatively well. His stewardship is all the more remarkable when we consider that for most of the time that he has been Prime Minister since March 1st 2020 there is a sword of Damocles dangling over his head —- a sword in the hands of 4 or 5 power-hungry politicians  hell-bent on ousting him.

In spite of this he has ensured with the help of his Cabinet, the Ministry of Health and the nation as a whole that the coronavirus pandemic is effectively controlled while lives are protected and livelihoods safeguarded. Balancing lives and livelihoods is a Herculean task facing most governments. Malaysia is certainly within the top bracket of nations in the handling of the pandemic. Its mass immunisation programme which began on 24th February with the vaccination of front liners is the epitome of the present phase in the fight against the invisible virus.

Protecting lives and livelihoods is intimately linked to generating economic activities which is the nation’s twin challenge. As with the pandemic, the Prime Minister has been totally focussed upon creating jobs, ensuring that economic aid packages reach their targets and that the vulnerable in particular have food on their table. There have been five stimulus programmes so far buttressed by the biggest budget in the nation’s history valued at RM 322.50 billion for the year 2021.  Malaysia was also one of the first countries to implement a moratorium on the repayment of loans taken from banks.

As part of a comprehensive plan to revitalise the economy the Muhyiddin government has given a great deal of emphasis to digital transformation. It is estimated that when fully digitalised the economy could create 500,000 jobs and would contribute 22.6 % to the nation’s gross domestic product by 2025. Training and skill acquisition would be directed towards this end.

Yet another achievement of the government in the last one year has been its concerted drive to curb and eliminate corruption in the enforcement agencies. It explains why a number of personnel in departments such as Immigration, Customs and the Police have been hauled up in recent months. Muhyiddin has pledged to implement the National Anti -Corruption Plan formulated by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

Equally significant is the Prime Minister’s pledge to uphold and respect the independence of the Judiciary which is fundamental to the integrity of the entire system of governance. This is  not just a verbal commitment. There are several high profile corruption cases before the Malaysian courts and since they involve some major political figures from UMNO whose members of Parliament provide critical support to Muhyiddin, his principled refusal to “ interfere” in the judicial process in order to “ save” these individuals  is a courageous move rare in the annals of Malaysian politics.

Apart from his commitment to the integrity of the Judiciary, Muhyiddin is the first Prime Minister to launch a National Unity Blueprint (2021-2030).Because it contains strategies linked to aspirations, the Blueprint conveys the impression that it is a serious endeavour. Of course, a lot depends on the actual implementation of the Blueprint.

Another long-term plan which became a reality in 2020 during Muhyiddin’s tenure was the much awaited  Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) It is anticipated that RCEP will not only boost intra-ASEAN trade but also accelerate the region’s economic development through the synergy derived from ASEAN’s interaction with the more advanced economies of RCEP such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea Japan and China. Some have even argued that RCEP as a regional grouping could  change the dynamics of power in the global economy.

The 7 achievements noted here underscore the significance of Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s first year as Prime Minister. It is not only in his approach to the unprecedented health and economic crises that he has proved his mettle. By initiating changes in other areas which are of tremendous long-term importance such as the challenge of national unity he has shown that he is a visionary leader in his own right.

May he continue to lead the nation with that deep sense of responsibility that emanates from his abiding faith in God.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is a political scientist and has been writing on Malaysian issues for the last 5 decades.

Kuala Lumpur.

1st March 2021.