Webinar on “Malaysia since the Sheraton Move: Pandemic, Politics, Popularity”

In this webinar, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Member of Parliament for Kuala Selangor, shared his insights on Malaysia’s many upheavals, from the vantage point of Pakatan Harapan’s Cabinet and the current federal opposition.


Wednesday, 27 April 2022 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “Malaysia since the Sheraton Move: Pandemic, Politics, Popularity”. Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad was the guest speaker delivering the webinar. He served as Malaysia’s Health Minister from 2018 to 2020 and is presently the Member-of-Parliament (MP) for Kuala Selangor. He is also the Strategy Director of Parti Amanah Negara (AMANAH) and Chairman of Pakatan Harapan (PH)’s health committee. Dr Dzulkefly expounded on five questions.

Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad
Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (right) opined that PH was mistaken in implementing austerity measures during its tenure in government. Dr Lee Hwok Aun moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The first question probes the causes of the Sheraton Move, and important takeaways for PH. Dr Dzulkefly commented that the defection of 39 MPs in February 2020 resulted in the ouster of the democratically elected PH government, as Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and MPs from other parties withdrew their support for PH. Nonetheless, he argued that the present political climate remains fluid as Prime Minister Ismail Sabri only commands a narrow and fragile parliamentary majority. In hindsight, Dr Dzulkefly opined that PH was mistaken to implement austerity measures during its tenure in government, since the outcome badly affected the livelihoods of ordinary Malaysians. He commented that the coalition has learnt from its past failings while remaining committed to implementing policy reforms.

The second question evaluates the extent of success in the battle against COVID-19, in particular public health measures in Malaysia. Dr Dzulkefly argued that the Malaysian government succeeded during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic by eliminating the first wave. By July 2020, daily new infections declined to almost zero. Unfortunately, the early success was not sustained as the Sabah state election in September 2020 resulted in a spike in new infections. Unlike the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in March 2020, subsequent MCOs were less stringent which impacted their effectiveness. Dr Dzulkefly commented that the Malaysian authorities failed to tap into technology such as predictive data to contain the spread of COVID-19. Poor coordination among the top leadership resulted in strategic and tactical mistakes, including the Sabah state election and the state of emergency proclamation which provided few public health benefits.  

The third question concerns how PH intends to move forward in the run-up to the next general election, as the coalition explores potential collaborations with other parties. Dr Dzulkefly commented that PH remains a unified coalition, despite the differences between component parties. Instead of perceiving PH as a failure, Dr Dzulkefly argued that the coalition’s 22 months in power was an experiment to establish equality and inclusiveness in Malaysia after six decades of Barisan Nasional’s single-party rule. He added that the “big tent” concept does not necessarily require bringing new partners into the PH coalition, but rather concerns electoral agreements with other opposition parties to avoid multi-cornered fights.

The fourth question pertains to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed a year ago between PH and the ruling government. Dr Dzulkefly conceded that the MOU was not well received by PH supporters when it was first announced, but due to the MOU PH could collaborate with the ruling government which ensured some resemblance of political stability to return during the past year. Dr Dzulkefly stressed that PH remains committed to checks and balances in serving as a constructive opposition while scrutinising government policies. He added that the anti-hopping bill remains essential to restore trust in the Malaysian democracy while providing political stability.

The fifth question concerns the role of AMANAH in shaping the discourse of Islam and politics. Dr Dzulkefly shared that Amanah champions for Islam while avoiding a legal reductionistic approach favoured by certain Islamic scholars. The party instead adopts a contemporary and inclusive version of Islam which emphasises the sharia objectives of justice and freedom. In addition, Islam is seen as the guiding belief to promote peaceful co-existence and respect for all.

Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar. The webinar attracted a large turnout of 120 participants from Singapore and abroad.