Malaysia abuzz as PKR's Azmin Ali meets 22 Umno lawmakers

Former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein (left) and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali (right) said the dinner meeting on Monday was an innocent gathering of friends.
Former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein (right) and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali (left) said the dinner meeting on Monday was an innocent gathering of friends.

Dinner gathering at Azmin's house sparks talk of anti-Anwar MPs marshalling forces

Malaysia is abuzz with talk of a big realignment of lawmakers after a group of 22 Umno MPs met Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali for dinner at his house on Monday evening.

The Umno group was said to be led by former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein, and several key lawmakers from Datuk Seri Azmin's faction in PKR were also present.

But both senior politicians said that it was an innocent gathering of friends, even as leaders of Umno and PKR were pressed for an explanation.

Mr Azmin told reporters yesterday: "That was a normal meeting. Nothing extraordinary... I take an open approach, whoever wants to meet me, I meet with them. I meet with the people, the business community, MPs whether from PH (Pakatan Harapan) or not from PH."

Said Datuk Seri Hishammuddin on Twitter: "It was not me who planned the meeting. But if Umno's disciplinary board wants to investigate me, I am ready."

The meeting at Mr Azmin's Putrajaya residence comes amid renewed pressure for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to step down and hand over the reins of power to Anwar Ibrahim this week, following PH's crushing defeat in a Johor by-election last Saturday.

Blame for the defeat was partly pinned on Tun Dr Mahathir for being slow on reforms, along with failure to bring down the cost of living and fulfil promises in PH's wide-ranging election manifesto.

Datuk Seri Anwar's followers are pushing for him to quickly take over from Dr Mahathir, with political chatter that the Premier might prefer to have Mr Azmin replace him. Mr Azmin issued a statement recently urging for continued support for Dr Mahathir to remain as prime minister.

Politicians in PH and Umno have said privately that MPs opposed to Mr Anwar's premiership are marshalling forces in case a no-confidence vote against him is called in the 222-seat Parliament.

 
 

Mr Anwar, the PKR president, would then need support from at least 112 MPs to survive the motion.

The added twist is that Mr Azmin's own fate as a Cabinet minister is precarious should Mr Anwar become prime minister. The two PKR leaders are in a bitter fight for control of the party.

The four-party PH and its allies in Sabah have a total of 139 seats in Parliament, while the combined opposition have 83.

But the configuration could change in a no-confidence vote against Mr Anwar.

Political sources say more than a dozen MPs from Umno and all 18 lawmakers from Parti Islam SeMalaysia are likely to vote against him.

Mr Anwar could also expect to lose votes from the 26 MPs in Dr Mahathir's party and about a third of PKR's 50 lawmakers who are from the Azmin faction.

On the flip side, Mr Anwar could bank on support from two-thirds of PKR's 50 MPs, and an almost solid bank of 42 lawmakers from the Democratic Action Party, one of the four PH parties.

It is not clear how the pool of some 50 MPs, mostly from the opposition parties, would vote in a no-confidence vote against Mr Anwar.

Mr Anwar said yesterday about the Azmin-hosted dinner: "Of course we will ask for an explanation first. This action has raised a lot of questions from our friends. So he must give an explanation."

 
 

So what exactly was discussed? Different answers were given to reporters.

Said Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was not invited: "I received information that the meeting was held to satisfy their (Umno MPs') voters in getting government projects to be channelled through allocations to them as MPs."

Mr Azmin, the Economic Affairs Minister, met several PKR MPs yesterday in Parliament. They included MP Maria Chin Abdullah, who said: "We were just having our usual discussion on economic policies, not related to anything with PKR."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia abuzz as Azmin meets 22 Umno lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe