Malaysia in political crisis; key ally pulls support for PM
(Sourced from PTI)
Malaysia plunged into a new political crisis on Thursday after the largest party in the ruling alliance announced it will withdraw support for PM Muhyiddin Yassin and urged him to make way for a new leader. The announcement could potentially trigger the collapse of Yassin's unelected government and fresh elections, although they're unlikely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yassin and his allies didn't comment immediately.
To recall, Yassin took power in March 2020 after initiating the downfall of the reformist government that won the 2018 elections. His Bersatu party joined with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which was ousted in the 2018 polls, and others to form a new government but the alliance is unstable with a razor-thin majority in Parliament.
UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said early Thursday that Yassin's government has failed to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. He said its inconsistent policies and half-baked lockdown measures have deepened economic hardships. Hamidi urged Yassin to resign and make way for a temporary leader to take over until the pandemic eases and a general election can be held safely.
It is important to allow a government that is truly stable and has the mandate of the majority of the people to be formed, Hamidi said after a meeting of UMNO's top decision-making body. UMNO's decision came just hours after Yassin named Defense Minister Ismail Sabri, who is from UMNO, as his deputy in a bid to persuade the party to stay on.
Tensions have been brewing for months, with UMNO unhappy at playing second fiddle to Bersatu. Muhyiddin's office also said, "Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein would take over Ismail's post as one of four senior ministers. Both Ismail and Hishammuddin will retain their security and diplomatic portfolios respectively." Analysts said Yassin split UMNO by appointing second-tier leaders to his Cabinet and reinforced it with new appointments.
The media reported that Sabri led opposition to Hamidi's plan to exit the ruling alliance at the UMNO meeting but hasn't made any public comments. UMNO has 38 lawmakers but only 15 are members of the party's top decision-making body, so it's uncertain if all of them, especially those in the Cabinet, will toe the party line.
"There has been 17 months of political deals and things have now come to a head. There is open war in UMNO...we have a weak government trying...to stay in power (sic)," said Bridget Welsh from Malaysia's University of Nottingham and a Southeast Asian political expert.
Meanwhile, Hamidi had noted that Malaysia's deaths from the pandemic had doubled to 5,768 since the lockdown began. Total confirmed coronavirus infections in Malaysia now stand near 800,000, with daily infections breaching 7,000 in the past two days. Hamidi even said that Yassin abused a coronavirus emergency that was declared in January for his political gain.
Meanwhile, the emergency had suspended the Parliament, which means support for Yassin's leadership cannot be tested. However, he agreed to let the Parliament resume from July 26, ahead of the August 1 expiration of the emergency, after growing pressure, including from the nation's king.