Malaysia’s Leader to Face Crucial Political Test in Parliament

Malaysia’s Leader to Face Crucial Political Test in Parliament

Malaysia’s government will face its biggest test of support since its turbulent rise to power in February when parliament fully convenes for the first time Monday.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will start the sitting by seeking to remove the speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, who was appointed by the previous administration. An earlier session in May only hosted a speech by the king due to concern over the coronavirus pandemic.

A win by Muhyiddin would put to rest doubts over how much support he commands among lawmakers -- a question that has lingered since the king named him as premier to end the political turmoil set off by the abrupt resignation of Mahathir Mohamad. It would also be a setback for the opposition side’s plan to launch a no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin, even as they struggle to agree on who to back as prime minister.

“If the removal motions are passed, it would indeed signify that Muhyiddin has a working parliamentary majority, albeit a thin one, and the purported motion of no confidence would be rendered moot,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow of Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Malaysia’s volatile politics has been a sore spot for investors and credit rating companies alike. The government’s questionable longevity has raised concerns over its fiscal policy, with Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings recently downgrading their outlook on the country’s debt to negative.

Debt Ceiling

The government needs a comfortable parliamentary majority to push through key laws, such as the temporary measures bill to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2021 budget in November. Parliament approval is also required to breach the 55% of GDP statutory limit on government debt, which now stands at 52% as the country puts in motion 295 billion ringgit ($69 billion) of stimulus measures to weather the economic downturn.

Malaysia’s Leader to Face Crucial Political Test in Parliament

Muhyiddin looks set for a victory, even if it’s a small one. The opposition remains divided, mainly over their candidate for prime minister. The Pakatan Harapan alliance has settled on Anwar Ibrahim despite acknowledging he lacks enough lawmaker support, while his long-time rival and former premier Mahathir and allies commit to backing Shafie Apdal, who would be the first prime ministerial candidate from East Malaysia.

Winning the speaker vote would give Muhyiddin a “more controlled parliament, making the case that a parliamentary speaker who defies the sitting prime minister won’t be tolerated,” said political scientist Wong Chin Huat. It could also see Mahathir’s no-confidence motion “buried at the bottom of the agenda and effectively killed.”

Resolve Impasse

The opposition isn’t the only risk to the current government. Malaysia’s longest-ruling coalition Barisan Nasional has stepped up calls for snap polls, with a party leader saying it plans to defend all its traditional seats, which could pit it against Muhyiddin’s support base among ethnic Malays and the rural population. BN’s massive victory at a recent by-election could give it room to demand a bigger role in the administration.

As Malaysia follows the Westminster parliament tradition, losing a vote of no confidence would force Muhyiddin to resign. On the other hand, losing the speaker vote would require no such thing.

Still, the loss may strengthen calls for Muhyiddin to either table his own motion of confidence, resign or call for a snap election to resolve the impasse. Still, the loss may strengthen calls for Muhyiddin to either face a confidence vote, resign or call for a snap election to resolve the impasse.

”If Muhyiddin is confident of his majority, he should table his own motion of confidence, which will legitimize his power if passed,” Wong said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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