After day of high drama, Umno sticks with ruling coalition

Supreme Council arrives at decision after marathon meeting stretching past midnight

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia has 31 MPs in the 12-party PN alliance.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia has 31 MPs in the 12-party PN alliance.PHOTO: REUTERS

The political storm that had threatened to derail the Malaysian government receded somewhat early this morning after the Umno leadership decided to continue extending its support to the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration.

The decision came after a marathon meeting of the Umno Supreme Council that stretched past midnight and a day of high drama in the course of which there were mixed signals, including suggestions that Umno might seek to replace embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin himself had contemplated resigning over a royal rebuff to his request for emergency powers, The Straits Times has learnt.

The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, had decreed that politicians not threaten the stability of the Muhyiddin government and let it get on with tackling the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

A change of government appeared very much on the cards, with marathon meetings through the day, until the Umno Supreme Council announced after midnight that the party's MPs would continue to support the PN government.

The statement did not explicitly back Mr Muhyiddin.

"Umno calls for improvements in the principles of cooperation that must be centred on the values of respect and political consensus," said the statement issued by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Before this, ST had learnt that Mr Muhyiddin had considered resigning on Sunday night after his proposal was rebuffed by the King, but close allies persuaded him to stay on until a solution could be found.

"Muhyiddin was shaken by the King's rejection, but he does not want to follow in the footsteps of Mahathir," a source said, referring to how former premier Mahathir Mohamad's resignation left Malaysia in political chaos for a week before Mr Muhyiddin was sworn in on March 1.

The Prime Minister met party chiefs from his PN pact early yesterday, but a notable absentee was Zahid, who has in recent weeks threatened to withdraw his party's support for Mr Muhyiddin.

The Prime Minister then chaired a special Cabinet meeting at 11.30am while Zahid, who had skipped the PN meet, saying he was unwell, later chaired a meeting of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition's 43 MPs in the afternoon after its ministers arrived at the Umno headquarters following the Cabinet meeting.

Asked if Mr Muhyiddin's resignation was on the agenda, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: "That is what we are discussing... We discussed how to move forward."

Former premier Najib Razak said on Facebook that he proposed that Umno back opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Harapan pact, but it must exclude the Democratic Action Party.

The Supreme Council, Umno's top decision-making body, said it had rejected this proposal. It had met from about 8.30pm, immediately after an evening conference of the party's state chiefs. The meeting ended just after midnight.

The plan to call an emergency was ostensibly to allow the government to tackle the pandemic without political distractions but critics dismissed it as a ploy by Mr Muhyiddin to stay in power, given that the Prime Minister's razor-thin majority in Parliament will be tested when MPs meet to vote on the national budget next month.

An emergency would have allowed Parliament to be suspended ahead of the crucial Budget 2021 vote next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2020, with the headline 'After day of high drama, Umno sticks with ruling coalition'. Print Edition | Subscribe