Malaysia: UMNO MPs Pull Support for Muhyiddin’s Govt

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-08-03
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Malaysia: UMNO MPs Pull Support for Muhyiddin’s Govt Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin attends a special session of the House of Representatives in Kuala Lumpur, July 26, 2021.
Handout/Malaysia Department of Information/BenarNews

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s tenuous grip on power weakened further on Tuesday after the head of the largest party in the ruling coalition claimed that enough of its lawmakers had withdrawn support to force him from power.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, president of the United Malays National Organization, told reporters that he had met King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah and presented him with declarations signed by at least 12 of the party’s MPs to prove that Muhyiddin had lost majority support in Parliament. The signees included himself, a cabinet minister, and other senior UMNO members, Zahid said, without sharing other details about the meeting.

“As proof, lawmakers from UMNO who have signed declaration letters that I have dispatched to His Majesty the King, and for legitimacy as well, here with me are the members of parliament who have signed these declaration letters,” Zahid told reporters at party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 10 UMNO lawmakers who joined Zahid at the news conference included former Prime Minister Najib Razak, Deputy House Speaker Azalina Osman Said, former Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan, and MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Najib, who was driven from the top office in 2018 in an electoral upset, has been facing trials on 42 charges linked to the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from 1MDB, a state development fund.

“There are more lawmakers who cannot be with us today because they are in their respective locations, especially those in Sabah,” Zahid said. “But once my request for another audience with the king is granted, I will present these additional declaration letters that I have.”

Minutes before the news conference started, Energy and Natural Resource Minister Shamsul Anuar Nasarah announced his resignation from Muhyiddin’s cabinet.

“Taking into account several decisions and [the] stance of the party, therefore, as a member of UMNO that is obedient and loyal to the party, I hereby resign as cabinet member of the federal government,” Shamsul said in a statement.

UMNO previously asked its member lawmakers to resign from their government posts following a resolution reached during the party’s general assembly in March. The party has nine ministers serving in the cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The 75-year-old party represents the largest single bloc in the government’s coalition.

UMNO holds 38 of the 222 seats in parliament (two are vacant because of the deaths of MPs), followed by Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party with 31 seats. If he loses support of the UMNO MPs, Muhyiddin would no longer have support of at least 112 members – one more than half of the full parliament.

Angry king

Muhyiddin’s relationship with the monarchy was tested lately when the king openly expressed his disappointment over a misleading statement by the government about the status of emergency ordinances enacted because of the pandemic. Last week, the king said Muhyiddin had not reached out to him as required before revoking COVID-19 ordinances.

In a statement on Tuesday, Muhyiddin said a motion to debate and potentially annul the emergency ordinances could be brought before parliament next month.

Muhyiddin also said his cabinet would discuss such a motion on Wednesday. He noted that the state of emergency had expired at the beginning of the month.

“With the end of the state of emergency on Aug. 1, 2021, based on the provision of the Federal Constitution, revocation of the emergency ordinances by the king does not arise,” he said. 

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Malaysian MPs participate in a House of Representatives session, July 26, 2021. [Handout/Malaysia Department of Information/Nazri Rapaai/ Reuters]

After Zahid’s news conference on Tuesday, Muhyiddin no longer had a government to lead, according to Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a political scientist at Universiti Malaya.

“Once Shamsul Anuar resigns in line with the party line, surely others will follow,” Awang Azman told BenarNews.

He said Muhyiddin needed to prove that he had majority support to stay in power.

“Once Muhyiddin’s majority comes into question, the formation of an interim government can happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, political analyst James Chin of Tasmania University said the king would have a say on what happens next.

“The government has not fallen. It is all up to the king now,” Chin told BenarNews. “He can accept or reject the statutory declarations. If he accepts them, he will have to ask Muhyiddin to prove his majority.”

For that, Chin said, Muhyiddin would have to recall parliament to allow for a vote of confidence.

“To recall a parliament sitting is a power of the prime minister and right now, he has no incentive to do that,” he said.

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