By Muzliza Mustafa and Ray Sherman
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday rejected resignation calls, saying he would prove he has majority support during next month’s parliament session.
Muhyiddin said King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah – who summoned him – agreed to his proposal.
“I’m aware that questions about my position as PM have often been raised. Therefore, I have informed the king that I will determine my legitimacy in the lower house when parliament reconvenes in September,” Muhyiddin said in a special nationally televised address at 12:30 p.m.
Opposition parties said the PM must call a special parliament session immediately or resign along with his cabinet.
Prior to his speech, lawmakers were seen entering and leaving Muhyiddin’s residence on Tuesday and Wednesday. Speculation went into high gear when the country’s military and police chiefs went to the PM’s office early Wednesday.
The king wrote a letter to Muhyiddin late Tuesday after United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the ruling coalition’s largest party, said the monarch had been informed that “enough” of its lawmakers had withdrawn support for the PM.
Muhyiddin said a vote of confidence would be tabled in parliament when it reconvenes Sept. 6.
One analyst told BenarNews that if such a vote is put on the agenda, it would be the first time in Malaysian history that a sitting prime minister called for a vote of confidence in the lower house.
Muhyiddin is confident he will win.
“I informed the king however, that based on declaration letters I have received from MPs, I am convinced that I still command the majority support from members of the [lower] house. …Therefore, the issue of me resigning does not arise.”
UMNO remains split
During the special address, nine cabinet ministers including his deputy, UMNO member Ismail Sabri Yaakob, flanked Muhyiddin.
UMNO is split on whether to support Muhyiddin, but calls for the unelected PM’s resignation began to gather steam in March and April.
Frustrated Malaysians have said that an emergency to contain the pandemic imposed on the PM’s advice did not stem new COVID-19 infections.
Instead, new cases rose more than eight-fold since the emergency’s imposition on Jan. 12, with the country recording a record high 19,819 cases and 257 virus-related deaths on Wednesday.
The king on July 29 reprimanded the government for allegedly misleading lawmakers about the status of emergency ordinance.
Shortly after, more than 100 lawmakers said the PM must resign for disrespecting the monarchy and acting unconstitutionally.
The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s announcement on Tuesday that a sufficient number of the party’s lawmakers had withdrawn support for Muhyiddin.
In his afternoon address, Muhyiddin said doubts about his legitimacy as PM were raised by certain parties who were unhappy that his government did not intervene in corruption cases against them in court.
“It’s impossible for Muhyiddin”
Opposition leaders, analysts and an election watchdog said that because of confusion over who in UMNO does or does not support Muhyiddin, he should call a special parliament session now and not wait until next month.
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) said such a delay could lead to backdoor enticements and concessions – or worse, state machinery put to use for political ends.
“A delay would prolong political instability with parties vying for support for MPs through promises of lucrative appointments to government-linked companies or even cabinet positions, or the use of enforcement bodies to investigate and bring charges to those who do not align themselves with the government,” Bersih said in a statement.
Jeniri Amir, National Council of Professors senior fellow, said the sooner a confidence vote is held the better.
“I hope that after [a confidence vote] we could all move forward as we all are tired of the political instability,” he told BenarNews. “What’s important now is to focus on steering the country out of the health crisis and looking after the welfare of the people.”
UMNO’s Zahid and opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan said there was no question that Muhyiddin had lost majority support.
Malaysia’s parliament has 222 seats, two of which are vacant because of the deaths of MPs. Muhyiddin needs the support of a simple majority of lawmakers – 112 – to stay in power.
Muhyiddin said his ruling coalition had the backing of 114 lawmakers before some UMNO MPs – Zahid says 12, while the PM claims the king told him eight – withdrew support.
“It is impossible for Muhyiddin to still have the majority support of MPs after the withdrawal of support by the UMNO MPs on Tuesday,” Pakatan said in a statement on Wednesday signed by three leaders of opposition parties from Malaysian Borneo and an independent MP.
“We insist that Muhyiddin and his whole cabinet resign.
S. Adie Zul in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.