By Mohsin Abdullah
According to the prime minister, his government is offering aid to various target groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government, he said, knows “where people need help” while the ministry for Women, Family and Community Development has a record of recipients.
Well and good!
But, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin also said this: “There is no need to hang a white or black flag, but it’s OK to hang a blue flag.”
The white flag campaign is community based, an initiative by the rakyat, from the rakyat, to the rakyat. Its aim is to provide aid to people who hoist the white flag to signal they are in dire straits.
The black flag campaign is a protest against alleged government failure in handling the pandemic and a call for Muhyiddin’s resignation.
Of course, we know what the blue flag is with blue being the color of Perikatan Nasional, a pact which Muhyiddin leads.
When Muhyiddin said what he said, he laughed a little bit, indicating he was “merely” joking.
That he was saying it in jest. Perhaps. But his timing was off. There’s simply no room for jokes and jest, not when the effects of the pandemic are taking a heavy toll on the people.
To veteran journalist Datuk A Kadir Jasin, “Mahiaddin (Kadir always uses the name registered in PM’s birth certificate when he’s talking about Muhyiddin) makes fun of the white flag movement. He thinks it’s a joke. Little does he know the joke is on him.”
But maybe the PM was joking when telling people it’s OK to fly the blue flag. When Muhyiddin was uttering all that he was wearing a shirt in the colors of the Perikatan Nasional blue although he was visiting the Bakul Prihatin Negara aid distribution center in Putrajaya as prime minister of Malaysia.
If the (Perikatan National) blue flag remarks were meant as a joke, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Only a day earlier, two consumer groups and a volunteer society denounced the practice of printing party logos and pictures of politicians on aid packages.
They said it is a cheap political stunt to claim credit for giving aid which is partly paid by taxpayers.
They see this as a direct form of campaigning using the plight of poor Malaysians who have lost their income. I am quoting a FMT report on this.
N. Marimuthu, president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association, described it as a shameless act. going on to say, “politicians in power appeared to be totally disconnected from the people’s sufferings.”
Consumers Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kadir said it is shocking that politicians are resorting to such “cheap politics” during a health and economic crisis. Both he and Marimuthu are urging Putrajaya to put an end to this practice immediately.
They did not mention names, but their comments came following the publication on social media of photos of food aid distribution with pictures of Perikatan Nasional politicians including Muhyiddin plastered on food packages and what not.
Need I say the food aid are in Perikatan National blue packages?
So, all this talk of politicians must not play politics seems to ring hollow.
A few days ago, cabinet ministers pledged full support for Muhyiddin, a week after Umno demanded that he step down.
The ministers who have publicly thrown their support for Muhyiddin included those from Umno itself. The pledge of support was announced via a media statement by the Prime Minister’s Office on July 14.
Apart from being boosted, is this a way of Muhyiddin showing that Umno is split and even their ministers are snubbing their own president?
After all, it was Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who announced his party’s supreme council decision calling for Muhyiddin’s resignation.
As I see it, there’s nothing surprising Umno ministers pledge support to the prime minister, as not doing so would mean giving up their cushy cabinet posts.
Former Umno leader Datuk Zaid Ibrahim took to Twitter to say: “Comical episode in my country. PM getting his ministers to express confidence and support when under siege. Just ask MPs to declare support next week. That’s what the law says: MPs’ support; not cabinet support.”
Yes, the prime minister is under siege and Zaid is right. And he was referring to the July 26 to August 2 special parliamentary sitting.
But, will the prime minister be tested then? Considering the announcement by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Harun that Parliament will have another two meetings from September after the July 26 one.
This is to say that the fourth term of Parliament will run for 15 days in September and another 32 days from October to December.
Therefore, the upcoming parliamentary sitting, said Azhar, is a five-day special briefing session for MPs beginning July 26.
To former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the July 26 special sitting is just a “façade” intended as a response to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s push for the legislature to reconvene before the expiry of the Emergency on August 1.
“It’s nothing more than a lie to the people to show a parliament sitting has been held but it is merely a briefing session,” Mahathir was quoted by Malaysiakini telling a July 15 virtual press conference organized by his Pejuang party.
And Mahathir also said his party had submitted two motions for the upcoming sitting but both were rejected by the Speaker.
Pejuang has four MPs, including Mahathir.
At the time of writing this article, the party has yet to make a decision whether to attend the the July 26 sitting.
As I see it, the Muhyiddin administration continues to buy time.
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)