Malaysian PM’s Party: UMNO's Withdrawal has ‘No Effect’ on Government

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-07-08
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Malaysian PM’s Party: UMNO's Withdrawal has ‘No Effect’ on Government Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (second from left) waves as he arrives for a session at the Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 26, 2020.
[Department of Information Malaysia via AFP]

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin showed no sign of budging from office on Thursday after the largest ally in Malaysia's ruling coalition announced in the early morning that it was withdrawing its support for him and demanding his resignation.

In a statement, his Bersatu party said that the United Malays National Organization’s decision to pull support from the PM “had no effect on the workings of government” because, it claimed, Muhyiddin still commanded majority support in parliament.

Meanwhile, the country’s top lawyer appeared to endorse Bersatu’s decision saying Muhyiddin would remain prime minister until a vote in parliament proved he had lost majority support.

“In the Westminster system of democracy, a government is formed by a prime minister based on his majority support of the members of Parliament,” Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan said in a statement, referring to the British parliamentary system.

According to Attorney General Idrus Harun, a party’s mere statement saying it was withdrawing support could not determine a government’s fate.

“Based on Article 43(2) (a) of the Federal Constitution, the determination on whether someone enjoys the confidence of a majority of Dewan Rakyat members must be decided by the Dewan Rakyat members themselves and not through a statement by a political party or any political party leader,” Idrus said in a statement, referring to parliament’s lower house.

“For now, the government does not have any clear facts to show that the prime minister no longer enjoyed the confidence of a majority of Dewan Rakyat members.”

Early on Thursday, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the party’s decision to pull support for Muhyiddin with immediate effect. He said Muhyiddin’s unelected government had mishandled the coronavirus pandemic and failed to uphold democratic principles.

But confusion reigned on Thursday, as some opposition leaders said the attorney general was incorrect, while local media reports said that not all in UMNO had agreed with the decision to pull support for Muhyiddin.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, said Muhyiddin should resign but that a vote in parliament was not necessarily needed.

“We wish to remind the attorney general that that Muhyiddin himself was appointed prime minister based on the letters of the heads of political parties supporting him, including the UMNO president,” Pakatan said in a statement.

“When a leader of a party of that size announces their withdrawal of support as what is happening now, this means that the prime minister has lost the base support and subsequently [a] majority of MPs’ support.”

Pakatan accused Attorney General Idrus of acting as a supporter of Muhyiddin’s coalition rather than defending the law.

Another opposition leader, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, said Idrus was inconsistent in interpreting the law.

During the February 2020 political crisis, Muhyiddin had not got the support from a majority of MPs, including from six in his own Bersatu, Mahathir said.

Muhyiddin’s is an unelected government formed a week after Mahathir’s government collapsed in February last year, in part because Muhyiddin had deserted it.

Muhyiddin then formed an alliance with UMNO and some other parties, and claimed he had majority backing. The king appointed Muhyiddin as PM without a parliamentary vote.

Floor vote in parliament

Both the current and a former attorney general, as well as a political scientist and a constitutional expert, appeared to agree that the only way to determine what should happen now is a vote on the parliamentary floor.

“Based on the comment by the attorney general, the only way to decide on the majority support for the PM are MPs – as such, I am suggesting the PM calls for a vote of confidence in the parliament,” Mohamed Apandi Ali, a former attorney general, told BenarNews.

“It is up to him if he wishes to prove that through a vote of confidence. This is part of the democratic process to prove the legitimacy of his government. This is the proper way to handle this matter.”

If Muhyiddin loses the vote, he and his cabinet should step down, Apandi said.

Only a parliamentary vote would determine whether Muhyiddin has majority support, so UMNO’s withdrawal of support does not mean an automatic collapse of the government, constitutional expert Muhammad Fathi Yusof said.

“Without the voting process in the lower house, it cannot be ascertained whether the announcement made by UMNO president indeed represented the majority of UMNO MPs or part of them,” Fathi told BenarNews.

Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist at Sunway University Malaysia, concurred with Fathi, saying “a negative majority against Muhyiddin does not equate to a positive majority for his alternative.”

“Without a formal defeat in the House, the only way to change the government is to present an alternative positive majority to the Palace, effectively a ‘constructive vote of no-confidence,’” Wong told BenarNews in an email.

He was talking about a potential move by lawmakers to go to the king and say that an alternate candidate commanded majority support in parliament, similar to what Muhyiddin did last year.

For a formal defeat, though, a lawmaker has to propose a confidence vote in parliament.

Muhyiddin suspended parliament after the king, on Jan. 12, declared an emergency on the PM’s advice. After three calls from the king and amid public pressure, Muhyiddin earlier this week finally decided to convene parliament before the emergency expires on Aug. 1.

The lower house is scheduled to meet for five days, starting July 26, but it remains unclear whether the house speaker would allow a vote of confidence to held if any lawmaker proposes such a vote. 

The speaker has the power to decide whether the house takes up any motion proposed by an MP, and this official was unlikely to allow such a vote, Wong said.

Such a move “is a dead-end as long as the speaker can hold the fort for the government,” Wong said.

Still, opposition alliance Pakatan also said the time was not right to call for a snap general election because the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging. But Pakatan did not propose any alternate solution to the political crisis either.

For Sunway University’s Wong, “allowing Muhyiddin to stay in power as a minority government is the most reasonable solution.”

“But Muhyiddin must behave as one, not acting as if he still has a majority,” Wong said.

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