KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's party said on Thursday (July 8) that his government would continue to function despite Umno withdrawing its backing.
Amid uncertainty over whether Tan Sri Muhyiddin continues to command majority support without Umno, the largest party in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) ruling pact, his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia said Umno's decision "had no effect on the workings of government".
"In the Westminster system of democracy, a government is formed by a Prime Minister based on his majority support of the members of Parliament," said Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced in the early hours of Thursday that the party's Supreme Council had resolved to withdraw its support for the Premier and call for his resignation, alleging numerous failings by his administration in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and reviving the economy.
However, it remained unclear if all 38 Umno lawmakers would toe the party line.
Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said the council agreed that MPs could vote in Parliament using their own discretion, but should stay guided by the party's decisions.
An unsigned statement said to be issued by MPs from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional alliance said they would continue supporting PN, although former premier Najib Razak has questioned its veracity.
Veteran Umno lawmaker Nazri Aziz, however, has claimed at least 32 of the party's MPs would not desert Mr Muhyiddin.
Political pundits say Umno's move is not enough to unseat the Muhyiddin administration.
Malaysian Attorney-General Idrus Harun said that there were no clear facts to show that the Premier no longer enjoys the majority support of lawmakers in the 222-seat Parliament.
"Based on Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution, the determination of whether someone has the confidence of the majority of the Lower House members must be determined by the members of the Lower House themselves, and not through any announcement by a political party or any political leader," said the country's legal adviser in a statement.
Sunway University political scientist Wong Chin Huat said that allowing Mr Muhyiddin to stay in power as a minority government is the most "reasonable solution", as Malaysia cannot go without a government or hold an election now.
This is because Malaysia is currently in a state of emergency and Parliament has been suspended.
"Without a formal defeat in the House, the only way to change the government is to present an alternative positive majority to the Palace, effectively a 'constructive vote of no confidence'," he said.
Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader P. Ramasamy said Umno's decision might not have the desired effect as it is evident that a faction of its MPs do not share party president Zahid's view.
"As long as a sizeable number of Umno MPs, especially those holding positions in the government, are with Muhyiddin, the government might not be toppled that easily," he said yesterday.
MPs within Umno itself appeared split over the Supreme Council decision, with Ketereh MP Annuar Musa claiming some council members had informed him that Zahid's statement on withdrawing support did not fully reflect the council's views.
But this claim was contradicted by Pengerang MP Azalina Othman, who said that the council's decision was unanimous.
Zahid has said a new prime minister should be installed to manage the pandemic until an election can be called, and that his party would not back opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for the post, nor support any administration led by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact, which has 88 MPs.
PH has called for Mr Muhyiddin to resign, saying he no longer had legitimacy as prime minister.
Dismissing a partnership with PH, however, leaves Umno with limited avenues to form government.
Umno has simply "shot itself in the foot", said Dr Wong.
"The move can only make the PN government officially a minority one, but cannot end the latter's tenure," he added.