Malaysia’s Emergency Widens Political Rift as Election Looms

Malaysia’s move to suspend democracy has done little to douse the friendly fire between Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Bersatu party and his powerful ally, the United Malays National Organisation.

UMNO, the biggest party in the ruling coalition, will not ally itself with Bersatu in the next general election, according to a statement issued Thursday. The decision was made after taking into account the views of the grassroots, UMNO added.

The move would have “major implications” on future cooperation between the ruling parties, Bersatu said in a statement late Thursday. Bersatu will focus on strengthening ties with its other allies, the party added.

UMNO’s decision may pressure Muhyiddin to further delay elections, after having pledged to seek parliament’s dissolution and obtain a new mandate once the pandemic subsides. Muhyiddin rose to power a year ago after his predecessor abruptly quit, having cobbled a razor-thin majority with his rival-turned-allies.

Malaysia in January declared a state of emergency in order to tackle a fresh surge of coronavirus infections that had stretched the health system to breaking point. That move allowed Muhyiddin to suspend parliament until the emergency ends in August, amid calls for immediate snap polls from UMNO.

While the nation has since managed to slow its infection rate, ease movement curbs and kick off a vaccination drive, its parliament remains suspended as almost half of the 220 MPs are in the high-risk group -- above 60 years of age, Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan said in a briefing on Wednesday.

The decision has earned brickbats from UMNO leaders, including former Prime Minister Najib Razak. “According to the government’s ‘science and data’, a massage is safer than a parliament sitting,” Najib wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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