Malaysia's King hails political truce as MPs ask for more reforms

Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, yesterday lauded the historic bipartisan deal that will keep Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in power for at least the next 11 months, but several MPs say the promised reforms under the agreement need to be expedited and widened.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding on Transformation and Political Stability signed on Monday, the government agreed to enact reforms, such as preventing lawmakers from party-hopping, in return for opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH) backing or abstention in confidence votes and supply Bills.

"His Majesty expressed hope that with the signing of this MOU, the political crisis ceases immediately as MPs will set aside narrow political agendas and unite to address the Covid-19 pandemic," the palace said.

But in Parliament, Umno MP Azalina Othman Said urged the government to put on the "fast track" her motion to introduce recall elections, which will test whether the electorate still supports its elected representative after he or she defects to another party.

"If a frog wants to hop, it does not follow any set time," said Datuk Seri Azalina, the former deputy speaker who had quit last month during the last days of the Muhyiddin Yassin administration.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin came to power in March 2020 after leading Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and over a dozen other MPs out of the ruling PH pact. His government, which held a slim majority, collapsed after close to 15 Umno MPs withdrew their support for him last month. He was succeeded by Umno vice-president Ismail.

Agreeing with Ms Azalina, Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal said defectors should be suspended from contesting elections.

The former Sabah chief minister slammed his opposition colleagues for signing Monday's bipartisan deal, saying they were propping up the very people who last year stole PH's mandate to govern. Warisan was not party to the deal, which has also been referred to as a confidence-and-supply agreement.

"I don't want, at the end of the day, if the government of the day fails and I signed that memorandum, the public will see that I also failed," he said.

PH leaders, however, have insisted that the agreement is not a "free pass" for the Ismail administration and that the coalition's support is conditional on the delivery of reforms and constant engagement from the government.

One of the reforms provides for MPs who are party to the deal to receive equal financial allocations for their constituencies. Previously, opposition lawmakers received a fraction of the sum allotted to government MPs.

Yesterday, several MPs called for the same measure to be rolled out in state governments. Ten of the country's 13 state assemblies are controlled by parties that make up the federal administration.

Malaysian United Democratic Alliance president Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman called on PH-governed states to implement similar deals as "reforms can't be centred only at the federal level".

"These are reforms that will endure, so that even five to 20 years later when the government keeps changing, equal rights and treatment, regardless of their constituency, are maintained," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysia's King hails political truce as MPs ask for more reforms'. Subscribe