Malaysia’s Embattled PM Stays On, Buys Time to Prove Majority
(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said his government has the numbers needed for him to remain premier and there is no reason for him to offer to resign.
His comments Wednesday followed a meeting with the nation’s monarch and after the largest political party in the country’s ruling coalition retracted support for the embattled premier’s government.
“Yet, I am also aware that my position as prime minister is often questioned. Hence, I have informed his Majesty that I will determine my legitimacy in parliament,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.
Muhyiddin said this would be done through a vote of confidence in the legislative assembly next month -- his first since he was appointed prime minister by the king in February last year. “The king consented to my proposal,” added Muhyiddin.
The latest development gives Muhyiddin another month to shore up a majority that has been precarious ever since he took office in March 2020, but the political uncertainty makes it harder for the coalition to jump start the economy that’s expected to grow at a slower pace this year than previously forecast. Public anger against his administration has also risen after the virus curbs failed to contain the spread, with new cases surging to a record 19,819 on Wednesday.
Opposition MPs such as former Science Minister Yeo Bee Yin took to Twitter to urge Muhyiddin to prove his legitimacy immediately rather than wait until September. Sabah-based opposition party Warisan said parliament could convene at once with the motion of confidence being the sole issue up for debate.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, president of the United Malays National Organisation, late Tuesday had again urged Muhyiddin to step down shortly after fellow party member Shamsul Anuar Nasarah resigned as energy minister.
UMNO had presented letters to the king from party lawmakers declaring they withdrew support for Muhyiddin, Ahmad Zahid said, without revealing their names. The current administration has lost its majority and Muhyiddin “must take responsibility for the failure under his leadership,” he added.
A Battle of Letters
Muhyiddin on Wednesday said he in turn informed the king he received enough letters from lawmakers to convince him he still had the confidence of the majority. Just eight UMNO lawmakers had written to the monarch to pull their support from him, he added.
The prime minister was flanked by nine colleagues at the briefing, including Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob, who is an UMNO member, Trade Minister Azmin Ali and Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong.
The reprieve helped the ringgit the almost reverse the day’s loss to close little changed. At one point, the currency had the biggest drop against the dollar in two weeks. The main stock index pared declines of as much as 1.1% before closing at its lowest level since November.
In the meantime, the cabinet and government machinery will continue to carry out their duty to the people, particularly in tackling Covid-19, said Muhyiddin.
His survival now depends on whether he can get enough support from Malaysia’s 220 MPs in the next several weeks, said James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania.
“He can throw in all the resources to make sure it becomes the magic figure” of 112 votes, said Chin. The premier could also escape the vote altogether by postponing parliament once again, he added.
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