Malaysian PM Muhyiddin in showdown talks with Umno over olive branch to opposition

Speculation is rife that Umno might seek to cobble together support for an alternative leader to replace Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is struggling to quell yet another internal revolt on Saturday (Aug 14), as Umno lawmakers still loyal to him fume over concessions offered to Malaysia's opposition.

The Straits Times understands that showdown talks within his Perikatan Nasional (PN) took place for about two hours at the premier's Kuala Lumpur home on Saturday afternoon.

Speculation is rife that Umno might seek to cobble together support for an alternative leader to replace Tan Sri Muhyiddin, instead of having to concede to demands by main opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH), headed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who is gunning to be the next premier.

Umno also resists working with the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the largest party in PH.

It had resolved in its general assembly this year not to cooperate with Mr Anwar and DAP, both of whom the party accuses of undermining the interests of the Malay-Muslim majority, which it seeks to represent.

"The issue is that working with the Democratic Action Party will hurt them at Umno's leadership polls," said a PN official with knowledge of the meeting on Saturday.

Umno is now split between president Zahid Hamidi's camp, which has pulled support for Tan Sri Muhyiddin, and those still in government, led by Deputy Premier Ismail Sabri Yaakob, estimated at about 15 and 23 MPs respectively.

Although both factions are seeking to take control of the party and government, they are cautious over rapprochement with Mr Anwar.

About 100 MPs are believed to support Mr Muhyiddin, with 111 required for a majority.

It is learnt that the Prime Minister's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia would prefer to strike an accord with former chairman Mahathir Mohamad, whose Parti Pejuang Tanah Air has four MPs.

But to regain a parliamentary majority would require convincing most of the 10 other opposition MPs loyal to Tun Dr Mahathir, a two-time former premier.

"Top PN leaders have tried to convince Mahathir as PM is willing to let him lead the National Recovery Council," a Bersatu official said, referring to the body charged with overseeing Malaysia's exit strategy from the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

"But this would depend on the terms of reference and how much power the council will have."

A source also revealed that Umno ministers were caught unaware of the deal proposed by Mr Muhyiddin to the opposition on Friday evening, ahead of a confidence vote next month.

This was despite him claiming he had gained the approval of Cabinet as well as PN leaders to offer the raft of reforms and additional spending to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has also baulked at the prospect of DAP being in government, although the proposal is merely a confidence-and-supply arrangement and not for the opposition to take up roles in the administration.

"PAS firmly disagrees if DAP becomes part of the government," deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini news portal, adding that "the offer is for all parties".

"It is a way out for us in facing the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the vaccination programme," he said.

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