Barisan Nasional mulls replacing Malaysian PM Muhyiddin after setback on emergency

This is the second special Cabinet meeting to be held in just a matter of days.
This is the second special Cabinet meeting to be held in just a matter of days.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - The Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was locked in deep discussion on Monday (Oct 26) over potentially replacing embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with a senior MP from their own ranks.

The Straits Times has learnt that Tan Sri Muhyiddin had considered resigning on Sunday night after the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, rejected his request for emergency powers but was prevailed on by close allies to stay on until a solution can be found.

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

It is understood that Umno now believes it can wrest power if it can find a suitable candidate and strike a deal with Mr Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

The Premier spent Monday morning in back-to-back meetings with top government leaders as his administration comes to grips with Sunday’s royal rejection of its request.

Party chiefs from his Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact - of which BN is the largest component - were in attendance at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Monday. But a notable absentee was Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who has in recent weeks threatened to withdraw the largest ruling party’s support from Mr Muhyiddin.

The Premier then chaired a special Cabinet meeting at 11.30am amid speculation that Zahid is ready to make good on the threat he had backtracked on just last week.

Zahid said he skipped the PN meeting as he was unwell, but as BN chief he then chaired a meeting of the coalition’s 42 MPs on Monday afternoon at Umno headquarters, following the Cabinet meeting.

“That is what we are discussing,” said Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, when asked if the Premier’s resignation was on the agenda. “We discussed how to move forward.”

Umno supreme council member Zahidi Zainul Abidin also said “there were views to retract support for Muhyiddin... but the majority of them said ‘no Anwar Ibrahim, no DAP’,” he told reporters after the two-hour meeting.

Opposition leader Anwar leads the Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact that includes the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party which Malay-Muslim parties like Umno have accused of undermining the interests of the majority community.

The plan to call an emergency was ostensibly to allow the government to tackle the pandemic without political distractions.

But critics have dismissed it as a ploy by PM Muhyiddin to stay in power, given that  his razor-thin majority in Parliament will be tested when MPs meet to vote on the Budget next month.

Umno supreme council member Puad Zarkashi and the opposition Parti Amanah Negara’s president Mohamad Sabu have made calls for Mr Muhyiddin to resign, although the latter retracted his statement after being admonished for “treason”, as Sultan Abdullah had called on politicians not to destabilise the government.

Despite refusing the request for an emergency, the palace on Sunday praised the Muhyiddin administration’s handling of the pandemic while rebuking “irresponsible acts” that have undermined the government.

Some opposition figures, especially those from the Democratic Action Party, the largest party in Parliament, have welcomed the call to ensure Budget 2021 is approved by offering to negotiate on the supply Bill with the government in exchange for their support.

This comes amid growing uncertainty over whether Mr Muhyiddin still controls Parliament,  after repeated assertions to the contrary by rivals such as Datuk Seri Anwar and Umno advisory council chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

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

A failure to approve spending for the government would see its collapse, and possibly trigger snap polls, amid fears this would worsen  coronavirus infections around the country.

Sultan Abdullah came to the decision after consulting other state monarchs on Sunday, with the Council of Rulers later also stating it was the King’s duty to “limit any element of abuse of power”.