Umno suspended its deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday, in a move seen as silencing a big critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The decision to suspend Tan Sri Muhyiddin was announced by Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, following yesterday's meeting of the party's Supreme Council, its top decision- making body.
The suspension meant that Mr Muhyiddin, who was sacked as Malaysia's deputy prime minister last July, cannot travel around the country to address any function of Umno, Malaysia's biggest political party with 88 seats in the federal Parliament and 3.3 million members.
He had been travelling and speaking at party functions to hit out at Datuk Seri Najib over the state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal and how US$681 million (S$954 million) was found in the banking accounts of the Prime Minister.
Mr Muhyiddin's suspension will not, however, affect his position as chief of Umno's Pagoh division or his MP seat.
Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan said Umno president Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, one of the three party vice-presidents, left the meeting before the council made its decision so as not to prejudice the outcome.
"The Supreme Council unanimously decided to suspend Tan Sri Muhyiddin effective immediately until the next Supreme Council election. His other positions are maintained.
"His actions did not mirror his responsibilities as a deputy president, who is supposed to help the Umno president strengthen the party. He has undermined the party," Mr Tengku Adnan told reporters after the two-hour meeting. He was flanked by vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein and five other council members.
The party's Constitution does not allow for an acting deputy president, but Datuk Seri Zahid has been tasked to take over the deputy's role. Mr Muhyiddin was absent from the meeting as he was overseas. The third Umno vice-president, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal - who is also a strong critic of Mr Najib - was absent, but he was not suspended.
Mr Muhyiddin's suspension comes three weeks after Umno ousted Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, another vocal critic of Mr Najib, as Kedah menteri besar, which saw little backlash from party members.
Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak of the National Council of Professors said that given the sore relationship between Mr Muhyiddin and Mr Najib as well as with other Umno leaders, it was not surprising that the party would move to suspend Mr Muhyiddin.
"If Muhyiddin continues to criticise the top leadership, it will divide the party. How can the party work in tandem with someone who is not in line with the party?" he said, adding: "Whether the decision is right or wrong, that is another issue."
The Malay nationalist party, he believed, was making decisions based on its interests to have a person perform the deputy president's function well, particularly leading up to the next general election that must be called by mid-2018.