Malaysian PM resigns after failing to get majority support

Mr. Muhyidddin’s departure comes less than 18 months after taking office and will plunge the country into a fresh crisis amid a worsening pandemic.

KUALA LUMPUR:

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin tendered his resignation to the King on Monday, becoming the shortest-ruling leader after conceding that he lost majority support to govern.

Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin wrote on Instagram that “the Cabinet has tendered our resignation” to the King, shortly after Mr. Muhyiddin left the palace after meeting the monarch.

Mr. Muhyidddin’s departure comes less than 18 months after taking office and will plunge the country into a fresh crisis amid a worsening pandemic.

Political leaders have already begun to jostle for the top post, with his deputy Ismail Sabri rallying support to succeed Mr. Muhyiddin and keep the government intact.

A Cabinet minister Mohamad Redzuan Mohamad Yusof told The Associated Press on Sunday that Muhyiddin will submit his resignation but will also point out to the monarch that his alliance still has the biggest bloc of support despite losing the majority.

Local media said the National Police Chief, the Election Commission Chairman and the Attorney-General were seen entering the palace on Monday. They left just before Mr. Muhyiddin arrived.

While Mr. Muhyiddin has dodged tests in Parliament for his leadership from the start, his rule collapsed after over a dozen lawmakers from the biggest party in his alliance pulled their support for the government, which has a razor-thin majority. Two ministers from the United Malays National Organization have also resigned from the Cabinet.

Under Malaysia’s constitution, the prime minister must resign if he loses majority support and the King can appoint a new leader who he believes has the confidence of Parliament.

Mr. Muhyiddin initially insisted he still has majority support and would prove this in Parliament next month. But in a U-turn on Friday, the premier sought opposition backing to shore up his government. He promised to call general elections by next July. He also offered concessions including proposals to limit the prime minister’s tenure, bolster checks and balances and a senior minister role to the opposition leader, but his plea was immediately rejected by all parties.

His expected departure comes on the back of mounting public anger over what was widely perceived as his government’s poor handling of the pandemic. Malaysia has one of the world’s highest infection rates and deaths per capita, with daily cases breaching 20,000 this month despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June to tackle the crisis.

Mr. Muhyiddin can advise the King to dissolve Parliament to pave the way for early polls, but this is not a likely option during the pandemic.

The King can decide on a new leader, but currently, no one coalition can claim a majority. A three-party alliance, which is the biggest opposition bloc, has nominated its leader Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate for Prime Minister. But the bloc has under 90 lawmakers, short of the 111 needed for a simple majority. That’s also less than the 100 lawmakers believed to be backing Mr. Muhyiddin.

Other contenders include Deputy PM Ismail who is from UMNO, but it’s unclear if a deal can be struck and if the King will accept it. Some opposition lawmakers also opposed such a deal, saying the whole Cabinet must resign for the government’s failings.

Local media said another possible candidate was Razaleigh Hamzah, an 84-year-old prince who was a former Finance Minister. Mr. Razaleigh, who is an UMNO lawmaker, is seen as a neutral candidate that could unite the warring factions in UMNO.

Former PM Mahathir Mohamad, 96, has meanwhile called for the formation of a National Recovery Council helmed by professionals to resolve the country’s economic and health crises.

Mr. Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of Mr. Mohamad’s reformist government that won 2018 elections. He pulled his Bersatu party out to join hands with the UMNO-led coalition that had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 over a multibillion-dollar financial scandal. Mr. Mohamad abruptly resigned to protest Bersatu’s plan to work with the former government.

Mr. Muhyiddin’s government is unstable as UMNO has been unhappy with playing second fiddle to his smaller party. Mr. Muhyiddin halted Parliament for months last year to shore up support. He again suspended Parliament since January and ruled by ordinance without legislative approval under a state of coronavirus emergency that ended on August 1.

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