Malaysia's King asks PM Muhyiddin to bring forward confidence vote

Letters representing the 105 MPs of the opposition were sent to the palace on Aug 9, confirming they reject Tan Sri Muhyiddin's leadership.
Letters representing the 105 MPs of the opposition were sent to the palace on Aug 9, confirming they reject Tan Sri Muhyiddin's leadership.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s King has asked Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to bring forward a parliamentary vote of confidence currently scheduled for early September, amid growing pressure from the premier's opponents this week to convince the monarch the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s majority has evaporated.

The Straits Times understands that Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah made this request during his weekly pre-Cabinet meeting with the Premier on Wednesday (Aug 11) morning, but it is not yet known if the premier agreed.

The King’s request was likely discussed at a hastily-called meeting of PN leaders later the same day. Mr Muhyiddin’s allies have flown in from across Malaysia since Tuesday to meet at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Speculation is now rife that the confidence vote could be held as soon as next Wednesday.

“It was asked of him (to have the vote earlier). Aug 18 was proposed,” a government official told The Straits Times, referring to the Prime Minister. It was not clear who proposed the Aug 18 date.

Wednesday’s flurry of meetings comes in the wake of developments in the past week where Mr Muhyiddin’s hold on the majority appears to have slipped even further. There are currently 220 lawmakers in Malaysia’s Parliament, which means backing from at least 111 of them is needed to govern.

The Straits Times reported on Tuesday that letters representing the 105 MPs of the opposition were sent to the palace on Monday, confirming they reject Tan Sri Muhyiddin's leadership.

This added to the 13 Umno statutory declarations that were made public at the same time in an effort to coax the King to request that the Prime Minister resign.

Despite 11 Umno MPs withdrawing from his government last Tuesday, Mr Muhyiddin said the next day that he informed Sultan Abdullah he was convinced he still had a majority based on statutory declarations he possessed, and that the monarch had agreed to the matter being determined in a parliamentary confidence vote next month.

But critics accused him of misleading the King, who had summoned the premier to discuss whether he should resign as constitutionally required when the prime minister loses his parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, talk is also growing that parties within PN are preparing for a sudden dissolution of Parliament.

On Tuesday night, Parti Islam SeMalaysia deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man called on members to prepare for a campaign in the “new normal” of social distancing due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, citing the “unstable political situation.”

Should Parliament be dissolved, the constitution states fresh elections must be held within 60 days. 

Previously, fears of stoking an already raging Covid-19 pandemic as seen after the Sabah polls last year had precluded both the palace and politicians from advocating this option. However, the government has repeatedly insisted all adults will be vaccinated by the end of October, and close to 70 per cent have already received at least one dose.

On Monday, Umno uploaded two letters sent by party chief Zahid Hamidi to the palace last week, informing Sultan Abdullah that 14 of the party's 38 lawmakers had withdrawn support from the government, along with 13 statutory declarations.

Deputy premier Ismail Sabri Yaakob - who leads a band of Umno MPs refusing to quit government - had insisted last Friday that 31 out of 42 lawmakers from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional remained steadfast behind the coalition's decision early last year to form the Muhyiddin-led government until fresh elections are held.

But the Umno vice-president's claim has been in doubt after at least three MPs named among the 31 insisted they had not taken such a stand.