PM Muhyiddin digs in after Umno pulls support

Govt will continue despite uncertainty over whether he holds majority backing

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's party said yesterday that his government would continue to function despite Umno withdrawing its backing.

Amid uncertainty over whether Tan Sri Muhyiddin continues to command majority support without Umno, the largest party in the Per-ikatan Nasional (PN) ruling pact, his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia said Umno's decision "had no effect on the workings of government".

"In the Westminster system of democracy, a government is formed by a prime minister based on his majority support of the members of Parliament," said Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

The 74-year-old Mr Muhyiddin was huddled in talks all of yesterday with his key political allies at his private residence in Kuala Lumpur.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced early yesterday that the party's Supreme Council had resolved to withdraw its support for the Prime Minister and call for his resignation, alleging numerous failings by his administration in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and reviving the economy.

However, it remained unclear if all 38 Umno lawmakers would toe the party line.

Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said the council agreed that MPs could vote in Parliament using their own discretion, but should stay guided by the party's decisions.

An unsigned statement said to be issued by MPs from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional alliance said they would continue supporting PN, although former prime minister Najib Razak has questioned its veracity. Veteran Umno lawmaker Nazri Aziz, however, has claimed at least 32 of the party's MPs would not desert Mr Muhyiddin.

Political pundits say Umno's move is not enough to unseat the Muhyiddin administration.

Malaysia's Attorney-General Idrus Harun said yesterday that there were no clear facts to show that the Prime Minister no longer enjoys the majority support of lawmakers in the 222-seat Parliament.

"Based on Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution, the determination of whether someone has the confidence of the majority of the Lower House members must be determined by the members of the Lower House themselves, and not through any announcement by a political party or any political leader," the country's legal adviser said in a statement.

Sunway University professor Wong Chin Huat said that allowing Mr Muhyiddin to stay in power as a minority government is the most reasonable solution, as Malaysia cannot go without a government or hold an election now.

This is because Malaysia is currently in a state of emergency and Parliament has been suspended.

"Without a formal defeat in the House, the only way to change the government is to present an alternative positive majority to the palace, effectively a 'constructive vote of no confidence'," he said.

Yesterday, MPs within Umno itself appeared split over the Supreme Council decision, with Ketereh MP Annuar Musa claiming some council members had informed him that Zahid's statement did not fully reflect the council's views. But this claim was contradicted by Pengerang MP Azalina Othman, who said that the council's decision was unanimous.

Zahid has said a new prime minister should be installed to manage the pandemic until polls can be called, and his party would not back opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for the post or support any administration led by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact, which has 88 MPs.

PH has called for Mr Muhyiddin to resign, saying he no longer has legitimacy as prime minister.

Dismissing a partnership with PH, however, leaves Umno with limited avenues to form a government.

Umno has simply "shot itself in the foot", said Dr Wong. "The move can only make the PN government officially a minority one, but cannot end the latter's tenure," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2021, with the headline PM Muhyiddin digs in after Umno pulls support. Subscribe