By Muzliza Mustafa and Noah Lee
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is expected to hand the king his resignation letter Monday, a cabinet minister said, after the political opposition rejected the leader’s request to make peace and help him shore up his government’s shaky parliamentary standing.
The PM will go to the National Palace to meet with King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah after chairing his final cabinet meeting on Monday morning, said Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
He said Muhyiddin announced his decision to resign during a meeting with lawmakers from his Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday morning.
“He will see the King tomorrow and submit his resignation. He said he does not have a majority anymore. Wait for the announcement,” Redzuan told BenarNews by phone.
On Saturday, a senior government officer said that the PM had made up his mind and would resign.
“He needs to meet with the king to make it official,” the officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told BenarNews.
The 74-year-old prime minister lately has faced calls from the opposition and within his ruling bloc to step aside. His unelected government has ruled Malaysia for the past 15 months and almost entirely during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has crippled the economy and led Muhyiddin to persuade the king, back in January, to declare an unpopular national emergency that lapsed on Aug. 1.
His critics had accused the PM of using the emergency and a parallel suspension of parliament as a ploy to delay a vote of confidence on his government that they were clamoring for.
But more political uncertainty could follow should the king accept Muhyiddin’s resignation, because various parties and alliances appear to be jockeying for power and trying to build coalitions while the country battles its worst-ever wave of coronavirus cases, according to reports.
It is also unclear that any single lawmaker or party has enough seats to command a parliamentary majority, as Muhyiddin pointed out in a nationally televised speech on Friday. In it, he effectively conceded that he needed the opposition’s backing to keep his government afloat.
“My easiest choice would be to resign. If I take this decision, my work is done and it is up to the King’s wisdom to pick a new prime minister,” Muhyiddin said during his Friday night speech.
“However, up to this point, none of the members of parliament can prove that he has the majority to enable the King to appoint a new prime minister.”
Redzuan, the cabinet minister, told local independent news portal Malaysiakini that Muhyiddin had tried his best to save the government but failed.
“Resigning would be his last option and it is the right and noble action based on the Constitution. The rest would be up to the King whether to accept the resignation or not,” Redzuan told the news website.
Muhyiddin addressed the nation a day after his government set Sept. 7 for a vote of confidence in parliament, despite the king having urged him to move the vote up to week of Aug. 16.
During his Friday night speech, the PM extended an olive branch to the opposition in the hopes that his rivals from across the political aisle would cooperate in allowing him to lead the government until elections take place in July 2022 at the latest.
Muhyiddin said he needed bipartisan support to keep the current government functioning so it could manage the health and economic crisis stemming from the pandemic.
In return for the opposition’s support, Muhyiddin said he was willing to offer its parties several incentives, including implementing political reforms that the opposition had pushed for, such as establishing term limits for the prime minister and allowing 18-year-olds the right to vote.
The opposition swiftly rejected the prime minister’s conciliatory move. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and other senior figures from across the aisle described Muhyiddin’s move as an admission by him “that he has lost majority support.”
Should the king accept Muhyiddin’s letter of resignation it will be up to the king to determine what happens next, according to Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a professor of political science at the University of Malaya.
In March 2020, the same king appointed Muyhiddin as leader of the government after the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition collapsed.
“The King will decide who will become the interim prime minister.”
That could be anybody who the king deems as fit and has majority support, Awang Azman told BenarNews. He said it could also be Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the current deputy prime minister who is affiliated with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.
“But the president of the party where he is a member will need to name him as the Prime Minister candidate. He will need the support from his party president and also the other political parties to become the interim prime minister,” Awang Azman said.
UMNO is a partner in the ruling bloc but, in July, the party president said that 15 UMNO lawmakers had pulled their parliamentary support for Muhyiddin.
Apart from the option of appointing an interim prime minister, the king could appoint a new prime minister – as was the case with Muhyiddin 15 months ago – or Muhyiddin could advise the king to dissolve parliament and call for early polls, according to the Reuters news agency.
“His coalition government has lost face. It is looking most likely that Muhyiddin is going to resign but it’s not clear who will be taking over and when,” Bridget Welsh, a political analyst at the University of Nottingham – Malaysia, told the Associated Press.
Malaysia’s parliament has 222 seats, two of which are vacant after the deaths of MPs. Only 112 seats are needed to secure a majority and form a new government.