Despite royal audience, Malaysia PM non-committal on House dissolution

Remote video URL

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had an audience with Malaysia’s King on Thursday afternoon, a meeting that was closely watched for signs of whether they would discuss the dissolution of Parliament.

There was no official statement on whether Datuk Seri Ismail and Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah talked about the issue during their 45-minute discussion, although the premier raised the possibility just hours ahead of the meeting.

After leaving the palace, Mr Ismail was holed up with leaders from the ruling Umno party at its headquarters. 

Reports citing officials from the palace and the Prime Minister’s Office indicated that terminating the parliamentary term was not discussed during the audience with the King

There was a flurry of activity earlier in the day, when the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, received a briefing on expected year-end floods in the morning, and the Premier met Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz at noon to put the finishing touches on the 2023 budget that will be tabled on Friday.

PM Ismail told reporters that he may discuss the dissolution of Parliament with the King, but refused to be drawn into whether this would leave the presentation of the budget moot.

He also said that the 4pm audience with the King was a routine weekly pre-Cabinet meeting.

“Let’s see, if we discuss (Cabinet issues) until Maghrib prayers, then there is no time to discuss other matters,” he said, referring to the evening Muslim prayers that take place after 7pm.

On whether the budget would be tabled as scheduled on Friday evening, he said: “Wait for tomorrow. If I say it now, then there is no more suspense.” 

Even if the budget is presented, Parliament could still be dissolved in the coming weeks, ending debate on the supply Bill before it is approved.

Although polls are not due for a year, the Umno vice-president has been under increasing pressure from the faction in the party that backs Umno president Zahid Hamidi’s push to go to the ballot this year.

On Sept 30, Umno held meetings of its political bureau, supreme council, as well as the so-called “Top Five” made up of Zahid, his deputy and the three vice-presidents, including Mr Ismail, who is the first non-party chief to lead Malaysia’s government.

On Tuesday, divisional leaders were gathered at Umno’s headquarters and told to prepare for impending polls, with senior officials stating that the top leadership had agreed to an undisclosed date to hold elections.

While Mr Ismail has said he will call an election as soon as he is certain of Umno’s victory, he has yet to publicly commit to a date, and the Constitution gives the King discretion on whether to consent to dissolving the legislature.

In 1999, Parliament was dissolved more than a week after the Budget was tabled. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sultan Abdullah had requested Thursday morning’s briefing by the environment and water ministry, the draining and irrigation department, as well as the meteorological agency on the annual year-end monsoon weather and flood preparation.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left) at an audience with the Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, on Oct 6, 2022. PHOTO: ISTANANEGARA/FACEBOOK

After the event, Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man confirmed that all 12 ministers from Perikatan Nasional (PN) had sent a letter to the King on Wednesday, stating that an election should be held only next year after the monsoon.

PN is the largest coalition in government, led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and includes Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim is deputy president of the Islamist outfit. Bersatu vice-president Radzi Jidin, who is senior minister for education, also confirmed that the letter was sent to the palace.

Besides PN, the main opposition pact Pakatan Harapan has also cautioned against a national vote during the expected floods, which last year saw as many as 60,000 evacuees at relief centres, at least 54 deaths and RM6 billion (S$1.84 billion) in damage.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.