Second Cabinet minister quits in blow to Malaysian leader

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A second Malaysian Cabinet minister resigned Friday, dealing another blow to embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who insisted he has majority support in Parliament despite the pullout of some governing alliance members.

Muhyiddin said Thursday he will call for a vote of confidence to prove his legitimacy to govern when Parliament resumes Sept. 6 . But the opposition and some members of the biggest party in his alliance demanded the vote be held now to end the political crisis.

Higher Education Minister Noraini Ahmad said she has resigned in line with her party’s decision to pull support for Muhyiddin’s government. She was the second minister from the United Malays National Organization to quit this week.

UMNO is the largest party in the ruling alliance with 38 lawmakers, but it is split with some not backing the prime minister. At least eight UMNO lawmakers have signed declarations withdrawing support for the government, which is enough to cause its collapse because of its razor-thin majority.

But Muhyiddin told Malaysia’s king during a meeting Wednesday that he still commanded the confidence of Parliament. He said the king agreed to his proposal to hold a confidence vote next month.

Muhyiddin told reporters on Friday that he was ready and neither scared nor worried to face the vote, but warned that any change in government could hurt efforts to fight a worsening coronavirus outbreak.

“Can the country handle more problems if there is a change (of government) or political chaos?” he was quoted as saying.

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 that is unstable. UMNO has been unhappy with playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s party.

He had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval since January after suspending Parliament under a state of emergency declared to battle the coronavirus. 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.

Public anger with his government has mounted after a lockdown in June failed to contain the virus, with daily cases soaring above 10,000 since mid-July. Malaysia reported 20,889 new cases on Friday to bring the country’s confirmed total to 1.22 million.

The opposition has accused Muhyiddin of delaying the vote of confidence to build up his support and demanded it be held next week. They warned that Muhyiddin’s government may use government agencies such as the anti-corruption agency and police to harass and threaten lawmakers to support him.