Muhyiddin offers reforms to opposition in bid to avert vote defeat

PH coalition strongly rejects offer even as Malaysian PM insists he won't step down

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin addressing the nation yesterday. Tan Sri Muhyiddin promised to hold a general election by end-July next year, and said the opposition leader will be given all perks akin to a senior minister's rank. The Pakat
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin addressing the nation yesterday. Tan Sri Muhyiddin promised to hold a general election by end-July next year, and said the opposition leader will be given all perks akin to a senior minister's rank. The Pakatan Harapan coalition has rejected the reforms offer. PHOTO: RTM/FACEBOOK

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin offered a raft of reforms to the opposition yesterday in a bid to stave off defeat in a confidence vote next month.

The embattled Premier, whose shaky majority was cast into further jeopardy after more than a dozen Umno MPs disavowed his leadership, insisted he would not step down despite "doubts raised over my legitimacy as Prime Minister and the status of Perikatan Nasional (PN) as the ruling government".

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's tacit admission of the loss of his parliamentary majority comes even as the 88-strong opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) called on lawmakers to rally behind their leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

At least 111 MPs are needed for a majority in the 222-strong legislature as two seats are now vacant.

"The Cabinet agreed we will discuss with the leaders of other parties outside PN to pass the confidence vote on the Prime Minister in Parliament," Mr Muhyiddin said in an address to the nation yesterday evening. "This confidence vote can be passed only with bipartisan support."

But in an immediate response, PH said it "strongly rejects" the Premier's offer, which was "an open admission he has lost the majority".

"This is the first time an illegitimate prime minister is openly offering bribes," the coalition's presidential council said in a statement.

Mr Muhyiddin, in his address, said he chose not to resign as no other MP can prove he has the parliamentary majority support.

"If I resign now, according to the Federal Constitution, the whole Cabinet has to resign too. This means that the PN government will fall," he pointed out.

"As no other MP has the majority at this time, the prime minister cannot be appointed, according to the Federal Constitution. If a PM cannot be appointed, then the Cabinet cannot be appointed, and a new government cannot be formed. What will happen if the political crisis prolongs... Who will ensure the vaccination programme runs according to schedule?" said Mr Muhyiddin.

His statement comes after Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, requested that Parliament reconvene sooner than Sept 6 to test the Premier's majority.

Mr Muhyiddin pledged that if he wins the confidence vote with a two-thirds majority, he will implement reforms, including limiting a prime minister's tenure to two terms and table an anti-party-hopping law to prevent elected lawmakers from switching sides.

Mr Muhyiddin also said that the government would table an amendment to the legislation to implement a lower voting age of 18, and hold a general election by end-July next year, depending on the pandemic situation.

He said a confidence vote would allow the government to keep functioning until there was an election.

He also said the opposition leader will be given all perks akin to a senior minister's rank, and that the Covid-19 fund to fight the pandemic would be increased from RM65 billion (S$20.8 billion) to RM110 billion.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2021, with the headline Muhyiddin offers reforms to opposition in bid to avert vote defeat. Subscribe