It seems that there is no end to the plight of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad’s woes as his coalition alliance lost its fourth electoral by-poll contest since coming to power in May which has exposed the deepening cracks in the young alliance as it is mired in uncertainty over a succession plan for its top leadership.
Dr Mahathir swept to power in May as he defeated his protege Razak as Malaysia witnessed a wave of anti-China sentiment. However, Dr Mahathir who in his first tenure ruled the country with an iron fist and muzzled the voice of dissent never planned to last the full term as he promised to vacate the Prime Ministerial chair for his foe turned friend Anwar at the ‘right time’. No fixed timelines were set for the succession plan and there is a growing feeling that Mahathir is delaying passing the mantle to Anwar and this has developed cracks in the alliance.
The cracks were visible as the opposition secured a majority of over 15,000 votes to wrest the Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat, a rural constituency in the southern state of Johor, from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact. The coalition, led by the centrist People’s Justice Party the President of which is Anwar, had already been grappling with plummeting public approval over its management of the country in the past year and a half.
Razak was mired in corruption scandals as he favoured the Chinese as the latter planned to make Malaysia the latest victim of its debt trap. Mahathir portioned himself as an anti-China crusader which saw his approval ratings bump up to 64% at the time of him assuming power.
After the initial posturing and cancelling of two crucial OBOR projects, Mahathir has succumbed meekly to the Chinese pressure and has all but given up Malaysia’s claim on the South China Sea. His pro-China stance has seen his approval ratings drop to a lowly 41%. Tanjung Piai is the second seat that the ruling coalition has lost since taking power, but the first time it has lost by such a large margin.
The result reflects the frustrations of Malaysians who continue to grapple with rising living costs, an issue the coalition had promised to address in its election campaign. The fears were only compounded further when Mahathir’s faux pass at the United Nations General Assembly where he went on a rant against India which prompted the latter to threaten Malaysia by restricting its palm oil imports which are critical for its economy. The fears prompted the Malaysian government to give India a discount of $5 per barrel as India was determined to increase its palm oil imports from Indonesia to offset the losses in supply by restricting the palm oil imports from Malaysia.
Recently, after Mahathir’s unnecessary comments on Trump, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Malaysia’s air safety rating and placed the country in category 2. The FAA said that Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), the air traffic regulator of Malaysia is deficient in more than one area “such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, and/or inspection procedures.” With down gradation, Malaysia is among the countries with worst air traffic regulation such as Bangladesh, Thailand Ghana and Costa Rica. Now, Malaysia will not be able to add any new flight to the US, but the existing flight- AirAsia X Bhd services from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu via Osaka, Japan, will not be impacted due to the decision. After such a big blow to Malaysian flight operations, the Malaysian Prime Minister said that he is not aware of the issue. “If there is anything wrong with our civil aviation authority, we will take measures, we will correct the situation,” said Mahathir.
All of this has contributed to Mahathir’s successive losses as he increasingly loses his grip on a nation which he ruled like a dictator during his first term. If Mahathir doesn’t wake up from his slumber, he would meet the same fate as Razak.