Malaysians fume as Covid-19 cases surge amid politicking

Residents brace themselves for fresh round of restrictions to curb the spread of virus

Photos of people holding up a banner at various sites in Malaysia's administrative centre, Putrajaya, were posted by non-governmental organisation Gerak Malaysia on Twitter on Tuesday. The banner reads: "People are suffering. Do politicians even care
Photos of people holding up a banner at various sites in Malaysia's administrative centre, Putrajaya, were posted by non-governmental organisation Gerak Malaysia on Twitter on Tuesday. The banner reads: "People are suffering. Do politicians even care?" PHOTO: GERAKMALAYSIA/TWITTER

The trust deficit between Malaysians and their politicians have apparently grown wider, with yet another power struggle amid a worsening Covid-19 situation.

Residents are bracing themselves for another round of restrictions as infections surge in the aftermath of a recent state election.

On Tuesday, several people - all of whom were masked - carried a banner in Malay that read "Rakyat menderita. Politikus peduli apa?" (People are suffering. Do politicians even care?).

They stood in front of six federal government buildings and agencies, moving from location to location.

The action by the group, which was posted on the Twitter feed of non-governmental organisation Gerak Malaysia, follows the appearance of several banners in other parts of the country, criticising politicians for their role in the recent resurgence of infections.

The spike in Covid-19 cases followed the Sabah state election on Sept 26.

In the run-up to the polls, politicians descended on the state to campaign, even though there had been an outbreak at one of its detention centres.

Some of these politicians and state residents who went home to vote were found to be infected when they returned to the mainland.

Malaysia's Covid-19 numbers hit new highs repeatedly since the end of the Sabah election, as a record 691 new cases were reported on Tuesday last week.

The mounting numbers prompted the federal government to impose partial lockdowns.

From yesterday, almost a third of the country's population were affected - in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Sabah.

Despite the worsening situation, political turmoil continued to grip the country, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's bid to become prime minister.

He met the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, on Tuesday and claimed that he now had the majority in Parliament.

Soon after the meeting, Umno, the biggest party in the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, threatened to pull out of it, throwing more doubt on the future of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Many Malaysians were already upset with the politicians for pushing for the Sabah state polls, and blamed the fresh restrictions or the conditional movement control order (CMCO) on the country's leaders.

CMCO and Umno started trending on Twitter late Tuesday, amid widespread disdain.

A Twitter user with the handle Steve Mak "thanked" the government for "doing such a great job" in messing up people's lives.

Twitter user Aymn Hzwani quipped that the people needed to be reminded on how awful the year had been for them.

"Not because of the pandemic but because of the incompetence," the user wrote.

Like many others, Twitter user Shareen Hakim's ire was aimed at Umno, saying: "Other than hardcore Umno, who is gonna work with or vote for Umno after this."

Analysts agreed that people were more concerned about the pandemic than politics.

BowerGroupAsia director Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani told The Straits Times: "I think it is not only distrust but also anger directed towards politicians who are blamed for the increase in Covid-19 cases, especially with #KlusterMenteri (ministers' cluster) trending on social media.

"Many already feel that the politicians are in their own political bubble and not in touch with the electorate."

He added that the people are more concerned with the pandemic and how the latest restrictions will affect their livelihoods.

Mr Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, a senior associate at Vriens and Partners, a government regulatory affairs and political risk consultancy firm, said: "I think there's growing anger and disillusionment from some members of the public with regard to the political shenanigans taking place."

He added that on social media, there is a general sense of disapproval over the current situation - of government instability and Datuk Seri Anwar's planned takeover - and that the people want a government that can show the way to deal with Covid-19.

Mr Shazwan said there might be a very low turnout should Malaysia go to the polls soon.

"Unlike Singapore, the Sabah election has shown how little prepared Malaysia is for an election in a Covid-19 era," he said.

Mr Muhyiddin has previously hinted at a snap election should PN win the Sabah polls.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2020, with the headline Malaysians fume as Covid-19 cases surge amid politicking. Subscribe