KUALA LUMPUR - The King has called a meeting of Malaysia's nine state rulers on Friday (Aug 20) that could be the penultimate act in resolving the month-long political crisis which has left the nation without a prime minister for the second time in 18 months, after Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was forced to resign on Monday.
The palace said in a statement on Wednesday that the "Special Discussion among the Malay rulers" will be on "current issues".
Parliament's 220 members are due to submit their choice of successor by 4pm on Wednesday to the palace in what is effectively a secret ballot and should a clear winner emerge, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah could legally swear him in immediately.
However, according to Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal, the ruler wants to vet the tally first.
"His Majesty will call to ensure (the MPs) are truly giving support to the chosen candidate. If a candidate is found to be appointed as prime minister, it has been decreed for this to be brought to Parliament for confirmation," he said in an interview with news channel Astro Awani on Tuesday night.
The palace statement confirmed that the King decreed that the new premier "should as soon as possible table a confidence motion" to "affirm that he has the confidence of the majority".
This could delay the legitimising of a new premier beyond the meeting of the state monarchs - who rotate five-year terms as the federation's Supreme Ruler, or Agong - as notice will need to be given to lawmakers to attend Parliament.
Given that Umno's 38 previously split lawmakers decided late on Tuesday to back their vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob, it appears that the deputy premier in the Muhyiddin administration is set to be promoted to the highest office with the support of 115 MPs.
This is despite Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief Anwar Ibrahim finally gathering the support of all 105 opposition MPs, including the 17 outside his PH coalition from the likes of Warisan, former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pejuang Tanah Air and Parti Sarawak Bersatu.
A bloc of at least 111 is needed for a simple majority in the 222-seat chamber, as two are currently vacant.
The Straits Times understands that the opposition leader is making a last-ditch appeal to Gabungan Parti Sarawak's 18 MPs. The ruling coalition in the eastern state was part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, which had 100 MPs at the time Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin resigned.
It also learnt that Datuk Seri Ismail was locked in last-minute discussions on Wednesday morning with Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former premier Najib Razak, who is still the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition's chief adviser, as well as top figures from PN partner Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
The meeting comes amid talk that some of the party's MPs are resisting Tuesday night's decision to unanimously nominate Mr Ismail.
Nonetheless, several sources with knowledge of Friday's meeting told ST that aside from discussing who might be Malaysia's ninth premier, a proposal for a unity government could also be on the agenda.
After Tuesday afternoon's unique joint audience of all the major party chiefs along with the King and his deputy, Sultan Nazrin Azlan Shah, several leaders such as Datuk Seri Anwar said the King called for a change in the "shape of politics" and "a pooling of the strengths of all parties with a new understanding in the spirit of cooperation".
"If I'm not mistaken, the King wants a bipartisan Cabinet," said one official who could not be named due to the confidentiality of the audience. "Umno is agreeable so that Ismail Sabri won't be all powerful."
Umno youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said on Wednesday that the next premier "cannot be tied to any agreement to retain the structure of the previous PN Cabinet", but should abide by the King's decree to "create a Cabinet that can translate the cooperation and unity between all parties during this period to tackle Covid-19... before the time comes to hold the 15th general election".
The palace also said: "His Majesty expressed the view that MPs should unite to create unity between all political parties.
"His Majesty also reminded leaders and representatives of the main political parties, to harmonise the situation, MPs that win should extend the hand of cooperation to those that failed and all parties should be ready to work as one team."
However, it is unclear if the rulers can prevail on the choice of ministers as the power to appoint a Cabinet lies with the prime minister.