KUALA LUMPUR - The biggest party in Malaysia's Perikatan Nasional (PN) ruling coalition - Umno - has called for a political ceasefire just about a week after it threatened to withdraw its support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's administration, as the country wrestles with a rising number of coronavirus cases.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Wednesday (Oct 21) the party would now fully back Tan Sri Muhyiddin's government to overcome the economic challenges arising from the partial lockdowns imposed on one-third of the country owing to a new surge in infections.
The statement by Zahid is likely to put a dent on Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's bid to be Prime Minister.
Datuk Seri Anwar had claimed Parliamentary majority early last week, purportedly with the backing of Zahid and several other Umno leaders. But Umno's full backing for PN at the moment means that Mr Anwar may no longer receive the support he needs for premiership, outlining Malaysia's fluid political situation.
Mr Anwar to date has refused to divulge the list of parliamentarians who are backing his premiership bid. Both the Royal Palace and the police have said that the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president has not revealed a name list for his backers.
Zahid said in a statement: "The party has ordered all of the party's leaders who are in the Cabinet to give their full focus to help the people and reduce the burden that they suffer due to the impact of Covid-19."
He also called for a "strengthening" of ties in the PN coalition to combat the impact of the pandemic.
Umno's decision to support PM Muhyiddin stands in contrast to its threat on Oct 13 to turn its back on his government.
It had said it would consider pulling out of PN, should "fresh demands" not be met. These demands reportedly include a Cabinet reshuffle to appease top Umno leaders.
After Mr Anwar's audience with Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah to claim parliamentary majority, the palace said the king has postponed interviewing party leaders to verify the claim until the partial lockdown to curb the coronavirus spread is lifted.
The federal territories of KL, Putrajaya and Labuan, along with Selangor and Sabah states - which together house about 30 per cent of the country's 32 million people - are under the conditional movement control order (CMCO).
The 14-day CMCO for KL, Putrajaya and Selangor is scheduled to be lifted next Tuesday (Oct 27), unless the government decides to extend it.
Responding to Zahid's statement, PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said his party will continue its efforts to "restore the people's mandate", referring to Mr Anwar's ongoing effort to bring together enough MPs to oust the PN government.
"PKR takes cognisant and respects the statement made by the Umno president today.
"At the same time, we will continue efforts towards restoring the people's mandate together with MPs who share the same hopes and ambitions," said Datuk Seri Saifuddin in a statement.
Malaysia has reported more than 800 daily coronavirus cases in the past four days, reaching an all-time high of 871 cases on Sunday.
It reported 732 cases on Wednesday.
Selangor - the state that surrounds Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur - reported the second highest number of daily cases (114) on Wednesday, after Sabah's 535. KL logged 20 cases, Putrajaya six, and Labuan nine.