Malaysian PM refuses to resign, delays vote by a month

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin refused to resign Wednesday after some lawmakers in his alliance pulled support for him, but said he will seek a vote of confidence in Parliament next month to prove his legitimacy to govern.

Shortly after a meeting with King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at the palace, Muhyiddin said in a national broadcast that he had been informed by the monarch that eight lawmakers from a key party in his ruling alliance had withdrawn their support.

The party, the United Malays National Organization, is the largest in the alliance with 38 lawmakers, but it is split with some not backing the prime minister. UMNO’s president declared Tuesday that Muhyiddin had lost the right to govern after the withdrawal of some party lawmakers’ support and after an UMNO Cabinet minister resigned.

Muhyiddin said he told the king he has sufficient declarations of support from lawmakers that “convinced me that I still have the majority support” in Parliament. As such, he said the issue of resignation doesn’t arise. He didn’t give any numbers.

Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. His party joined hands with UMNO and several others to form a new government but his alliance is unstable with a razor-thin majority.

Since January, he had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval because of the suspension of Parliament in a state of emergency declared because of the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say he used the emergency, which expired Aug. 1, to avoid a vote in Parliament that would show he had lost a majority of support.

At the same time, public anger with his government has mounted after a lockdown in June failed to contain the spread of the virus, with daily cases soaring above 10,000 since mid-July.

Because of persistent questions over his legitimacy, Muhyiddin said Wednesday that a motion of confidence in his leadership will be presented for a vote when Parliament resumes next month.

“In this way, my position as prime minister and the Alliance National as the ruling government can be determined in accordance with the law and the constitution,” he said.

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi disputed Muhyiddin’s claim of majority support because the governing alliance previously only had a three-seat majority in Parliament.

He said more party lawmakers in addition to the first eight have now signed declarations withdrawing their support for Muhyiddin, and that those documents were presented to the king on Wednesday.

Ahmad Zahid, who is among several UMNO leaders facing graft charges, challenged Muhyiddin to immediately convene a special Parliament session to prove his legitimacy and not wait until September.

The opposition also demanded that the vote be held no later than Aug. 9. They said the issue must be resolved now given the worsening virus outbreak and sluggish economy.

“It doesn’t make sense for a government whose legitimacy and majority support have been disputed to delay the process … in Parliament,” they said in a statement.

Muhyiddin came under renewed pressure last week when the king rebuked his government for allegedly misleading Parliament over the status of the emergency laws.

Parliament reopened for a five-day special sitting last week a few days before the emergency expired after Muhyiddin caved in to royal pressure, but it was only to brief lawmakers on the pandemic and no motions were allowed.

After the king’s rebuke, Muhyiddin was accused of treason by some allies and the opposition, who filed a fresh vote of no-confidence against him. The government then suspended Parliament for two weeks, citing virus infections among staff members.

Muhyiddin denied committing treason against the king. He accused some political leaders of sparking political chaos after he refused to interfere in court process to bail out several politicians mired in criminal cases. He didn’t name anyone but UMNO’s president and several top leaders are fighting graft charges.

He pledged his government will focus on efforts to tackle the pandemic and ensure that the vaccination program isn’t disrupted.

Malaysia reported a record 19,819 new cases on Thursday, pushing its total cases to 1.18 million. Deaths have soared above 9,000. But vaccinations have also been ramped up with some 20% of the country’s population fully inoculated.