Johor state assembly to sit amid political headwinds

Ongoing speculation over hung assembly and possible defections of several legislators

All eyes will be on the Speaker of the Johor assembly as the state legislature sits today, amid intense speculation over a hung assembly and possible defections of several assemblymen.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact in Malaysia's second-richest state is faced with uncertainty over the status and loyalty of former menteri besar Osman Sapian.

Datuk Osman is a member of Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) but has been seen in viral videos with leaders of Pejuang, a new rival party set up by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

If Mr Osman leaves or gets kicked out of Bersatu, both PN and the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) will have 28 assemblymen each in the assembly.

Johor PN currently has 29 seats in the state assembly against PH's 27.

Johor Speaker Suhaizan Kayat said he would be the tie-breaker in the event of a no-confidence vote.

"If there is a hung assembly, the Speaker will cast the deciding vote," Mr Suhaizan, who is from opposition Parti Amanah Negara, told The Straits Times.

A motion of no-confidence has to be proposed 14 days before the assembly, which will convene today and on Sunday, after having had a one-day session on May 14.

If Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad loses the vote, he can either resign or advise the Sultan to dissolve the state assembly.

"As of now, I do not expect a dissolution of the assembly. I think the session will run smoothly," said Mr Suhaizan yesterday, adding that Mr Osman has not requested to sit on the opposition bench.

Political sources say that PN is trying to bring over assemblymen from Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Amanah into the ruling coalition before acting on Mr Osman, or the assembly sitting, to avoid a premature dissolution.

 
 
 

Sabah state in eastern Malaysia is holding state-wide polls later this month after a spate of defections and a failed coup.

"There are efforts to entice individuals to join PN to boost its numbers but, so far, no one has switched sides," an opposition Johor politician told ST.

There is also talk of Bersatu lawmakers joining Pejuang. Five Bersatu assemblymen met Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar on Monday to affirm that they will not be switching to the opposition, but this did not include former menteri besar Osman.

Bersatu's disciplinary board had announced Mr Osman's expulsion last week following reports that he had campaigned for rival Parti Pejuang Tanah Air at the recent Slim by-election in Perak, but later said it was still investigating the matter.

Despite this, Mr Osman has persisted in consorting with Pejuang party leaders, and a second video went viral on Monday.

In June, Sultan Ibrahim said he was disappointed with the state's political turmoil. "If there is power grabbing happening among the elected representatives, then I will immediately dissolve the Johor state assembly," he had warned.

Political science professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya said: "PN Johor will try to avoid state polls... to focus on handling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular the economy. I think they will wait for nationwide elections which are expected by the year end."

If state polls are called, it would come at a trying time for PN allies Umno, Bersatu and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), as the former political enemies which had contested against one another in many constituencies must now agree on which one of them would contest in what seats.

Said Johor PKR chief Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh: "Rather than politicking and power grabbing, we would prefer to have a stable government. The people are quite disappointed with what is happening now, lawmakers jumping here and there. They feel they have no say."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2020, with the headline 'Johor state assembly to sit amid political headwinds'. Print Edition | Subscribe