By Arin Doshi
This article is a continuation of the previous article “An epoch of uncertainty: The Malaysian Political Crisis”. This has been written to address the severe consequences and the twists and turns of the ongoing Malaysian political crisis. In light of the resignation of Muhyiddin Yassin the 8th Prime Minister, this article will further explain the manifestations of anger that has transpired with the unstable political and Covid crisis leading to the tendering of the resignation to the King of Malaysia.
An unexpected resignation?
Earlier on the 16th of August, 2021, Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet tendered their resignation to the King of Malaysia citing that he did not have the majority of the parliament. Muhyiddin’s popularity as prime minister has stagnated at new lows with the end of a tumultuous 17 months in office. The Malaysian administration under him has been heavily criticised for their lacklustre efforts in combating the rising COVID 19 cases. The rising cases have hampered the Malaysian healthcare system and have led to discontentment amongst the contract doctors. The country has also been battered with an economic crisis stemming from the ongoing lockdowns since June with unclear standard operating procedures (SOPS) forcing businesses to shut down. With chaos ensuing in Malaysia, social media protests and street protests have been held to show discontent with the Muhyiddin government.
Failing healthcare system
The resignation comes at a precarious time in Malaysian history with the country’s swooping past India as one of South East Asia’s highest covid-19 infection rates, with deaths per capita now exceeding India and neighbouring Indonesia on the 23rd of May. The situation took a critical hit with hospitals around Kuala Lumpur turning patients away and in the state of Kedah, doctors had to decide who gets rejected from using the ICUs. converting parking spaces into COVID wards. Even with a lockdown being put into place from the 1st of June onwards, cases have been further prolonged. The health director Dr Noor Hisham argued that it was the rise of new variants that have been plaguing Malaysia. Critics argue that the administration faced problems in vaccine appointment complaints and double standards in enforcing restrictions.
The Contract doctors
Unfortunately, the medical frontliners who have borne the brunt of the collapsing healthcare system are the contract doctors. The contract doctor system under the Malaysian public healthcare system was introduced in 2016 by the previous Malaysian government under Barisan Nasional through Najib Razak. This was meant to ensure that waiting time for medical graduates was shortened before starting their duties as post graduate doctors. The system further detailed that new medical school graduates are given temporary contracts in hospitals where they can conduct their practice under supervision of their superiors. In fact, this system would have ensured the transition from working within the first 5 years in the public healthcare system to receiving houseman ship positions quicker.
However, in the face of rising Covid cases and deaths, the pandemic has exposed the flaws of the system. Contract doctors lament that the current healthcare crisis does not allow for them to gain secure employment in hospitals where they can practice their speciality. With COVID cases rising at a never-ending pace, contract doctors have been made to work in the front lines of Covid hotspot clusters to treat the infected in hospitals. The doctors further argue that they have been overworked under dismal conditions and very little pay alongside the lack of opportunities to complete their specialist training. These hassles have caused outrage amongst the contract doctors.
Contract Doctors Strike
Soon after this led to a strike being organised by the doctors, locally known as the hartal kontrak doctor (contract doctors strike) after the government failed to heed to their demands of better conditions. The doctors conducted day-long walk outs from major hospitals in the country defying punishments for striking in the country. The health director general Dr Noor Hisham tried to appeal to the doctors to not protest for the sake of the patients and that doctors should focus on their duties first before protesting. Police were spotted around the hospitals but no doctors were arrested for striking.
Apart from the collapsing healthcare system, an economic crisis looms over Malaysia. Alarming statistics state that at least 300,000 small and medium sized enterprises are likely to close down at the end of 2021. According to a Malaysian manufacturing association, some 1.2 million Malaysians are out of work. Economic experts have criticised the government for the handling of the lockdown and are seeking ways to revive the Malaysian economy in the long term. Experts further digress that the virus is not the one that is creating the economic chaos, it is the result of policies being implemented by the former Muhyiddin administration. With the lockdown, unemployment has soared. According to a study done by the Australian National University, 54% of Malaysians have been worried about a prolonged economic crisis due to the handling of the Covid cases. With the rise of instability and unemployment, it is also worth noting that in the wake of this lockdown and misallocation of resources, 5-8% of Malaysia’s population could fall into poverty which is about 2.8 million people unable to buy milk powder and pay rent, according to a study done by the Merdeka Centre.
Bendera Putih and Bendera Hitam
As outrage boils over amongst the Malaysian population, social media protests have arisen in the form of the Bendera Hitam (Black Flag) and Bendera Putih (White Flag) campaigns. The White Flag campaign was an initiative signalling the call for help for Malaysians affected by the COVID pandemic to raise white flags to receive assistance and food aid from people in their communities or neighbourhoods. This was done in response to the lack of financial incentives to survive during the pandemic and many businesses and their livelihoods have been devastated during the pandemic. What’s even more ironic is a call for help and desperation was met with scorn remarks by the Muhyiddin administration which sheepishly declared this initiative as part of a propaganda plan to overthrow the government and stated that there was no need to raise the white flags.
The Black Flag campaign was created as a hashtag initiative to protest against the governments incompetence in combating the Covid cases through poorly implemented policies. There are three demands that are associated with this campaign and that is to call for Muhyiddin Yassin to resign, the reconvening of parliament and end the Emergency or better known as the Darurat. Unsurprisingly, the police opened up investigations under the Article 4 (1) of the Sedition Act 1948, Article 505(c) of the Criminal Code and Article 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1988. Opposition MPs have called the investigations shambolic and showcase the government’s fear of the people rising.
As the Black Flag and White Flag campaigns gained traction in Malaysian social media, a protest movement sprung up in social media known as the Lawan movement (Against movement). The Lawan protest was organised by a youth coalition group known as the Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (People’s Solidarity Secretary) to pursue three core demands. Firstly, Muhyiddin needs to resign, parliament needs to be opened up and lastly an automatic moratorium on repayment of bank loans to the general public. The protest was organised on the 31st of July, 2021 at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square). In spite of a moderate turnout of 1000 protestors, organisers of the protest faced numerous hassles by the police before the protest. The police forces filed various charges of sedition against the organisers, detained the key organisers of the protest temporarily and in a last-minute ditch attempted to block roads leading towards Dataran Merdeka.
Opposition MP protest
Anger had also boiled over from the opposition Mps known as the Pakatan Harapan party, so much so that they organised a protest at Dataran Merdeka. The Opposition MPs together with the prominent people such as Mahathir Mohammed and Syed Saddiq took to the streets on the 2nd of August after the Opposition MPs were denied entry into the parliament. Why were they not allowed into the parliament, one may ask? This protest comes after the decision by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to postpone the special Parliament sitting due to several “Covid-19 cases” within the Dewan Rakyat supposedly even though the majority of MPS received two doses of the vaccine. The parliament sitting was meant to open up discussions on the national recovery plan for Malaysia in combating the Covid virus as the King of Malaysia insisted that steps needed to be taken for Malaysia to recover, yet the sitting got postponed due to concerns of Covid in the parliament. What is troubling however was how the riot police were called upon the members of Parliament in order to stop them from entering parliament.
A return to the old guard?
With Muhyiddin finally resigning after outcry from both within his party and of the anger of people, it then led to the selection of the new PM Ismail Sabri by the King of Malaysia. The King decided not to have an election because of the rising number of COVID cases. Sabri was chosen on the basis that he commanded the majority of support within parliament after Muhyiddin was falling out of favour. Unfortunately, the future remains pessimistic for Malaysia as the appointment of Sabri favours the rise of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which has been mired in the 1MDB (1 Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal and divisive race- based policies further dividing the multicultural population of Malaysia. Critics also worry that nothing much would change and in fact it is a mere reshuffling of the cabinet to include those favourable to him. However, in a turn of unexpected events the Malaysian federal government signed a bipartisan Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Transformation and Political Stability between the arch-rival opposition coalition on the 13th of September in order for increased political stability. The MOU further covers plans on the Covid 19 virus, administrative transformation, parliamentary reform, judiciary independence, upholding of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and the establishment of a steering committee. According to Sabri, this MOU is meant to be a stepping stone of togetherness and socio-economic progression. Yet, this raises more suspicions and questions on how willing this government is to achieve a prosperous democratic Malaysia when Malaysian politics has been mired in corruption leading to a stifling of democratic procedures through the police even so much as to suppress documenting the suffering of the Malaysian people who protested the mismanagement of the government before Sabri. Is the Opposition willing to put up with this, considering how they were blocked from entering the Malaysian parliament or does another surprise await them? Malaysia faces a rocky future ahead and more efforts need to be made for the country to recover especially within the healthcare and economic sectors.
Edited by Zuzanna Mietlinska, artwork by Loredana Pearlstein
Malaysia Agreement 1963: An agreement that was signed in 1963 for Malaysia to become a federation. The agreement included the Malayan (old name for Malaysia) Federation, the UK government, the two states of Borneo Sabah, Sarawak and also formerly Singapore.