KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The largest party in Malaysia’s ruling alliance said Thursday that it will withdraw support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin immediately and urged him to make way for a new leader.
The announcement is a political bombshell that could spark a general election and potentially trigger the collapse of Muhyiddin’s government if he refuses to quit.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after he withdrew from the former ruling alliance and united with the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, and other parties to form a new government. But UMNO has been unhappy at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s own Malay party.
UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Muhyiddin’s government has failed to curb the coronavirus pandemic that has led to economic hardship.
He urged Muhyiddin to resign and make way for a temporary leader to take over until the pandemic eases and a general election can be held.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday appointed a lawmaker from his allied party as his deputy, in what is seen as a calculated bid to dissuade the largest party in his ruling alliance from withdrawing its support for his leadership.
The announcement came just hours ahead of the meeting of a top decision-making body of the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, which has long been unhappy at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin's Bersatu party and is expected to decide whether to quit the government.
The prime minister's office named Defense Minister Ismail Sabri as the deputy premier and said he will also retain his security post. It said the appointment will help Muhyiddin manage the country at a time of health and economic crisis.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the downfall of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. He joined hands with UMNO, which was ousted in the 2018 polls, and several smaller parties to form a government focused on the country's majority ethnic Malays.
But Muhyiddin faces strong challenges not just from the opposition but from UMNO.
Muhyiddin broke with tradition by not appointing a deputy premier to his Cabinet last year but named four senior ministers instead, of which two are from his own party and Ismail who is from UMNO.
Muhyiddin's office said Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein will now take over Ismail's post as one of the four senior ministers, while retaining his diplomatic portfolio. It voiced hopes that the appointments will unite the ruling parties and boost the government's strength.
Analysts said Muhyiddin has split UMNO by appointing second-tier leaders to his Cabinet and is now reinforcing it with Ismail and Hishammuddin's appointments. Both these two UMNO lawmakers are in a camp opposed to UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“It could buy Muhyiddin some time. He's using a conquer and divide tactic, so that hopefully there would not be a consensus at the UMNO Supreme Council meeting tonight to pull out of the ruling coalition," said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
UMNO’s highest decision-making body earlier this year said the party will not work with Muhyiddin’s alliance in the next general election. Its attempt to seek early polls has been stymied by a worsening coronavirus crisis, with the country plunged in a second national lockdown since June 1.
Muhyiddin has agreed to let Parliament resume July 26, ahead of the Aug. 1 expiration of a coronavirus emergency that has suspended the legislature since January. Critics slam the emergency as a ruse to help him stay in power as support for his leadership cannot be tested with Parliament suspended.
Oh said the new Cabinet appointments may help Muhyiddin avert danger for now but noted that UMNO grassroot and division leaders had been adamant of pulling out.
“As long as Bersatu is in charge, UMNO will not be all right," he said.
The Associated Press