As Political Drama Plays Out In Malaysia, India Plays ‘Wait And Watch’  

by M R Subramani - Mar 5, 2020 06:55 PM +05:30 IST
As Political Drama Plays Out In Malaysia, India Plays ‘Wait And Watch’  Muhyiddin Yassin (second from right) (Facebook) 
Snapshot
  • Any conclusion to the current tug-of-war in Malaysia seems plausible only in May. New Delhi may have to keep its patience for long.

On Sunday (1 March), Muhyiddin bin Haji Muhammad Yassin better known as Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth Prime Minister.

He was sworn in as prime minister by the country’s king following seven days of political manoeuvres after the resignation of Mahathir bin Mohamad.

Mahathir resigned after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) or Alliance of Hope formed on 22 September 2015 collapsed.

The alliance, a centre-left one, comprised the Democratic Action Party (DAP), People's Justice Party, National Trust Party and Malaysian United Indigenous Party.

The alliance was formed with an eye on the 2018 election in which PH was swept to power with Mahathir becoming the Prime Minister. His alliance partner, Anwar bin Ibrahim, was to become the prime minister later per their understanding.

The alliance split as some members, including Muhyiddin, formed a group with members of Parliament of Malay origin leaving out DAP, a Chinese-centric party, and People’s Justice Party, a multi-racial party, of Anwar.

Mahathir tried to form his own group, saying he was willing to join anyone but former prime minister Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak or Najib Razak, who is facing trial on charges of money laundering and corruption.

Though Mahathir and Anwar patched up on 28 February, it was too late. The Malaysian king appointed Muhyiddin as the prime minister as he found him enjoying the support of a majority of the 229 members of Parliament.

Still, Muhyiddin has to face a test on the floor of Malaysian parliament, which will meet on 11 May.

What is in store for India from Muhyiddin after Mahathir failed to maintain a cordial relationship with New Delhi?

Mahathir spoke against the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir in the United Nations. He also commented against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), affecting bilateral relationship with India.

India hit back by clamping down on imports of palm oil from Kuala Lumpur, making Indian importers get the government’ permission before bringing each consignment into the country.

India’s efforts paid dividends as Malaysia’s palm oil exports dropped by over 300,000 tonnes in January. This forced Mahathir to go soft against India. After meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, he refrained from issuing any statement on the Kashmir issue.

Before this, Mahathir chose not to repatriate Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to India for his alleged links with terrorists and money laundering. The former prime minister said Malaysia had the right to not extradite him.

Malaysia has also not been helped India in Aircel-Maxis investigation as one of its citizens G Ananda Krishnan, a key witness, has not cooperated with Indian authorities. An arrest warrant against him is pending for years now.

Will the relationship between India and Malaysia improve in the event of Muhyiddin taking over? India has not yet reacted to his ascension.

It is too early for India to expect anything from Muhyiddin.

During Najib Razak’s 2017 visit, India and Malaysia agreed on fighting terrorism and confronting China’s encroachment into the Indian Ocean. India enjoyed good relations with Malaysia during Razak’s tenure.

Though Muhyiddin relies heavily on the 39-member United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) of which Najib Razak is a leader, relations between the two are not cordial.

India would rather wait and watch developments unfolding in Malaysia and would hope that it gets a friendly leadership to improve bilateral relations.

Given Muhyiddin's rise from an ordinary Barisan Nasional worker and the way he has gone about first dumping Najib Razak and now Mahathir, he could be a wily customer; what with Malaysia Parliament meet being put off until two months from now.

India would be closely watching developments in Malaysia, including the hearings of the corruption cases against Najib Razak on 10 March, before deciding further on its strategies.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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