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Tougher road ahead for MUDA in next election without Syed Saddiq, says political analyst

In an interview with a political analyst, it is said that the recent conviction of Syed Saddiq, leader of MUDA challenges, potentially undermining the party’s credibility and affecting its reform-driven agenda.

Liew Wui Chern, a political analyst and lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Malaysia, opines that MUDA faces a challenging future without Syed Saddiq, as it appears to be built upon his influential leadership and charisma. The absence of a suitable successor raises concerns about the party’s continuity following Saddiq’s sudden resignation.

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Positioned as Malaysia’s third political force championing multiracial and pro-people reforms, the future of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) party appears uncertain following the sudden resignation of its iconic leader, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

His departure, prompted by his conviction last Thursday (9 Nov) for abetting in criminal breach of trust (CBT), misappropriation of assets, and money laundering, has cast a shadow over the party’s trajectory.

Reflecting on the party’s future, a Malaysian political analyst underscores the urgency for MUDA to take decisive action promptly, warning that without it, the party risks becoming “irrelevant” in the dynamic Malaysian political landscape.

A strategic shift is deemed essential, with party leaders needing to proactively step into the spotlight to guide the party through these challenging times, navigating without the influential presence of Syed Saddiq.

Last Thursday, Member of Parliament for Muar, Syed Saddiq was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined RM10 million (approximately US$2.13 million), in addition to receiving two strokes.

This conviction stemmed from the mishandling of funds belonging to Angkatan Bersatu Anak Muda (Armada), the Youth wing of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, where he previously served as its chief three years ago.

Subsequently, the 31-year-old Syed Saddiq filed an appeal for his case on the same day, and in a later press conference, he announced his resignation as MUDA President.

He cited that the presidential institution must be ‘whiter than white’ because the responsibility is extraordinary, and said he “doesn’t deserve the role anymore”.

“We have made the decision that I will vacate my position as the president while I clear my name through the court process, ” said Syed Saddiq after a meeting with the MUDA party’s leadership last Thursday.

Legal precedent or warning signal? 

Liew Wui Chern, a political analyst and lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Malaysia, offered insights on the recent High Court decision regarding Syed Saddiq when interviewed by Gutzy Asia.

Mr Liew opines that MUDA faces a challenging future without Syed Saddiq, as it appears to be built upon his influential leadership and charisma. The absence of a suitable successor raises concerns about the party’s continuity following Saddiq’s sudden resignation.

On the recent High Court decision on Syed Saddiq, he believed that the Malaysian court might want to send a clear message through this precedence case.

According to him, the court’s decision might serve as a precedent to send a clear message that high-profile politicians could face severe consequences if found guilty of embezzlement, graft, or money laundering charges.

There is a notable sentiment on the ground questioning the timing of Syed Saddiq’s conviction, which occurred two months after he withdrew his support for Anwar’s Unity Government.

Mr Syed Saddiq had expressed deep dissatisfaction with the abrupt suspension of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial.

On 4 September, the High Court granted DPM Zahid a Discharge Not Amounting to Acquittal (DNAA) on all corruption charges related to the misappropriation of funds from a charity foundation, Yayasan Akal Budi (YAB).

Mr Liew underscored the distinctions between Zahid’s case and Saddiq’s, emphasizing that Zahid’s case suspension stemmed from a request by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), which holds the authority to initiate and withdraw charges before a judgment is reached.

In contrast, Saddiq’s case saw a decision made by a High Court Judge, a move that Mr Liew deemed a relatively severe punishment for Mr Syed Saddiq.

Considering Mr Syed Saddiq’s declared assets, Mr Liew expressed doubts about his ability to afford the fine.

“It’s conceivable that the court is using Mr Syed Saddiq as an example to caution other political figures that severe consequences await if found guilty,” Mr Liew suggested.

Uncertain horizons for MUDA

Moreover, Mr Liew warned that the future of Mr Syed Saddiq’s party could be challenging.

MUDA, formed in September 2020 by Syed Saddiq after his departure from the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU), was envisioned as a multi-racial, youth-based entity representing all segments of society irrespective of race, religion, or age.

Under Syed Saddiq’s leadership, MUDA actively participated in various elections but did not secure significant political achievements.

Currently, MUDA has just one MP, Syed Saddiq, and one representative in the Johor State Assembly, Amira Aisya Abdul Aziz, who is acting as the party president.

Mr Liew cautions that the party risks becoming irrelevant without Syed Saddiq’s unique leadership and significant political influence.

Following the 2020 Sheraton move, which resulted in the downfall of the Pakatan Harapan Government, Syed Saddiq chose not to align with Malaysian 8th PM Muhyiddin Yassin to form the new Perikatan National Cabinet.

Instead, he was terminated as the youth chief of BERSATU and became an independent Member of Parliament at that time.

Even when Tun Mahathir Mohammad, aged 95 at the time, resigned from BERSATU and established the pro-Malay rights Party of Homeland’s Fighters (PEJUANG), Syed Saddiq opted not to follow his mentor.

Instead, he announced the formation of a multi-racial party.

Offering insight into Syed Saddiq’s decision to withdraw from Anwar’s Unity Alliance in September, Mr Liew noted Syed Saddiq had aimed to position MUDA as the third force between the two dominant Malaysian political factions, Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH).

“He wants MUDA to gain support from neutral voters dissatisfied with both PN and Anwar’s PH,” stated Mr Liew.

He highlighted that these neutral voters were discontent not only with the pro-racial stance of PN but also lacked confidence in PN’s ability to govern.

Additionally, they found recent policies and decisions from the Unity Government, such as its stance on the Israel-Palestine Conflict, dissatisfactory.

“If MUDA stays with PH, there is no chance for the party to stand out, ” Mr Liew said; hence, it is understandable for Syed Saddiq’s decision for MUDA to operate independently from major political alliances.

Moreover, major political entities within PH, such as PAP and PKR, appeared hesitant to offer safe zones for MUDA during election campaigns. MUDA frequently found itself assigned to high-risk constituencies, and the negotiations for constituency allocations during the Six State Election failed to advance favourably.

These challenges played a role in MUDA’s ultimate decision to withdraw from Unity alliances.

Former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to join MUDA?

Regarding Syed Saddiq’s future in his political career, Mr Liew remarked that since he has submitted an appeal for his case, his responsibilities as a Member of Parliament (MP) would not be compromised.

As long as he maintains his position, there remains an opportunity for him to regain political prominence.

Nevertheless, the absence of a charismatic figure like Syed Saddiq has left other MUDA party leaders struggling to distinguish themselves, prompting the party to seek visionary and strong leadership to navigate these challenging times.

Notably, there have been suggestions that MUDA should invite influential figures like Khairy Jamaluddin, the former Health Minister and ex-UMNO youth chief, to join and lead the party.

Mr Liew, however, dismissed this notion, stating that the suggestion seems unlikely as the party may appear too small for Khairy, offering limited political benefits for the latter.

Future looks bleak

Mr Liew acknowledged that MUDA has recognized its weaknesses after withdrawing support from PH, anticipating even greater challenges ahead.

To navigate these challenges, he proposed that the new leaders of MUDA must acknowledge the political realities in Malaysia, where voters tend to favour candidates or parties they are familiar with.

“As a small and young party, MUDA lacks this advantage compared to larger political parties. ”

“The leaders and potential candidates within the party are relatively young and lack political experience,” Mr Liew pointed out.

In the absence of Syed Saddiq, he suggested that MUDA’s leaders must proactively engage with the public way before the election period, making themselves known on the ground to familiarize voters with the party.

“They need to advertise themselves more. You cannot rely on voters becoming familiar with your party or candidates only during election times,” he advised.

Additionally, Mr Liew highlighted that the party seems to have overlooked the need for a clear and significant manifesto that can be presented to voters during elections, setting MUDA apart from other political parties.

He noted that MUDA lacked a common campaigning agenda in past elections and stressed the importance of screening candidates’ qualities before allowing them to contest.

While Syed Saddiq’s decision during the six-state election to permit candidates to campaign under MUDA’s flag, even if not party members, might reduce the party’s financial burden, Mr Liew pointed out that it also resulted in a lack of a common campaigning agenda and diverse manifestos.

For example, during the Six State Election in August, MUDA fielded UK-trained lawyer and climate change advocate Abe Lim in the urban Bandar Utama seat in Selangor.

Mr Liew expressed concern that these manifestos might not directly resonate with voters, potentially diverting attention from more pressing issues such as the cost of living and inflation.

Liew highlighted the need for MUDA’s present leadership to align with political reality, become more familiar with fulfilling voters’ needs, and adapt to popular preferences.

He emphasized that without a strategic shift, the future looks bleak for MUDA.

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