KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian politics was thrown into turmoil on Thursday (July 29), with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin clashing with the King over the revocation of emergency ordinances.
There were calls, even from Tan Sri Muhyiddin's own allies, for him to quit after the palace issued a statement in the morning that contained a rare and stunning rebuke of the government.
The palace insisted that the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, did not endorse the government's unilateral move to withdraw the ordinances under the state of emergency which he proclaimed in January. It is due to expire on Sunday.
"His Majesty is extremely disappointed, as what was assented to and agreed on with (parliamentary and law minister) Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan and Attorney General Idrus Harun during a virtual audience on July 24 was for the proposal to cancel the emergency ordinances be tabled and debated in Parliament," the palace said.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim read the palace statement to cries of "betrayal" and "traitor" in Parliament, which is sitting for the first time since December. He called for the resignation of Mr Takiyuddin and Mr Muhyiddin as well.
Datuk Seri Anwar then filed a fresh motion of no-confidence against Mr Muhyiddin but it was not addressed after Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon announced the adjournment of the session because two Covid-19 cases were detected in Parliament this week. Datuk Hasnon said the sitting had been adjourned until next Monday as Covid-19 tests are conducted.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, was holed up with close advisers in Cabinet as well as the Attorney General at his residence.
"PM was told the situation has become too chaotic and untenable," a source with knowledge of the discussions told The Straits Times.
But, according to sources close to the Premier, Mr Muhyiddin is digging his heels in, taking the position that the Constitution obliges the King to act in accordance with the government's advice.
"He is staying. He has done everything in accordance with the Constitution," said a top government official.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) responded in the evening by pointing out that, according to the palace statement, "the King is aware that His Majesty must accept and act according to the Cabinet's advice as provided in Article 40 of the Federal Constitution".
The PMO press release also added that Mr Muhyiddin and the Attorney General had further explained to the King, in an audience on Tuesday, the government's advice on the cancellation of the ordinances.
Umno, the largest party in the governing Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition which has been split about remaining in it, made an open call for the Premier to step down, accusing him of "treason".
"Umno will ask Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan to resign honourably," said party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who has for weeks agitated for Umno MPs to leave the beleaguered administration, which has been hard pressed to defend its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ST understands that Umno ministers who have remained steadfast to Mr Muhyiddin, despite pressure from Zahid, have told the Prime Minister his grip on power has been shaken by the discord with the palace.
Mr Muhyiddin was widely seen as secure in office despite longstanding doubts over his parliamentary majority, due to Sultan Abdullah's implied endorsement of him.
The Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president was sworn in by the ruler to lead the government in March 2020 despite his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad claiming to have the backing of more MPs.
Sultan Abdullah also called on MPs to support the government's budget at the end of last year and then assented to Mr Muhyiddin's request for the emergency in January, moves that has so far kept Mr Muhyiddin in power.
On Monday, Mr Takiyuddin claimed that the ordinances - which the government insisted were crucial to deal with the worsening Covid-19 situation in the country - were cancelled by Cabinet on July 21, prompting the opposition to question whether the King had consented to the decision, as the withdrawal of the laws had not been officially gazetted.
A government spokesman told ST that the administration had decided there was no longer any need for the ordinances, as "Malaysia's vaccination programme is going well" and the Covid-19 crisis should be under control by October.