Umno wants elections to be held once Covid-19 pandemic is under control

Umno’s top decision-making council met for the second time this week. PHOTO: REUTERS

Umno, the biggest party in Malaysia's ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, has called for a general election to be held once the surge in coronavirus cases has abated, following a lengthy deliberation of top party leaders yesterday.

"Umno has decided that the people's mandate must be returned to form a stable government by holding elections once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control," Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said after the three-hour meeting late last night of the Supreme Council. This was the second such meeting of Umno's top decision-making council this week.

The council consists of Umno's president and top office-bearers, as well as state party chiefs.

There was earlier speculation indicating that the party would decide yesterday evening on a candidate to be named as deputy prime minister in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Cabinet.

This was to be among the "fresh demands" that Umno wanted in order to continue its cooperation with the eight-month-old PN government.

Party sources had told the media anonymously that three names - Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan - were supposedly in the running as Umno's choice for deputy prime minister.

But the statement distributed to the media at the end of the meeting yesterday made no mention regarding the creation of a deputy prime minister's post, or whether the issue was discussed by the council.

Tan Sri's Muhyiddin's Cabinet has four senior ministers, but no deputy prime minister.

Zahid, in his statement, called on existing Umno Cabinet members "to remain in government" and continue to "take care of people's welfare and defend the party's dignity". He said the party is committed to a "political truce" and "national reconciliation" amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

On Monday, another Supreme Council meeting saw the party deliberating on whether to continue backing Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister. It decided to continue to back the 13-party PN coalition in its current form.

Umno leaders have consistently mentioned the party's need to have more strategic positions in the current government and had threatened to withdraw support for Mr Muhyiddin if these demands were not met.

Mr Muhyiddin's PN has 113 seats in the 222-seat Parliament, with a narrow two-seat majority. The uncertainty over the Premier's majority saw him seek emergency powers from the Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, last week in order to pass a crucial federal budget. But the request was rejected by the palace on Sunday.

Zahid's statement indicated that Umno, with 39 MPs, will back Budget 2021 which will be tabled in Parliament next Friday.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2020, with the headline Umno wants elections to be held once Covid-19 pandemic is under control. Subscribe