Malaysia’s Law Minister: King Agreed PM Need Not Hold Confidence Vote

S. Adie Zul and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-09-07
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Malaysia’s Law Minister: King Agreed PM Need Not Hold Confidence Vote cabinet meeting with King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah, in Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 1.
[Photo courtesy Istana Negara]

Malaysia’s law minister on Tuesday claimed the king had agreed there was no need for the new prime minister to hold a confidence vote in parliament.

However, the monarch’s purported agreement is contrary to his decree last month, which is why, one opposition lawmaker said, he would like to hear it in writing from the palace.

Law Minister Wan Junaidi’s statement came three days after the government’s top legal officer also said there was no need to legitimize the king’s appointment of Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister.

“[T]he constitution has given supreme power to the king to appoint a prime minister, based on the belief that the person has enough majority. … 114 lawmakers pledged their support,” Wan Junaidi said.

“We have received his majesty’s consent so that it [the confidence vote] does not have to be held because the appointment is still fresh,” he said, adding that the prime minister had informed the cabinet about this during its first meeting on Sept. 1, after his audience with the king.

Wan was referring to the king’s appointment last month of Ismail Sabri – after his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin resigned – following individual meetings with all lawmakers to ascertain whom they supported to be the country’s leader.

The parliament is scheduled to start its session on Sept. 13. A confidence vote is not on the agenda, opposition MPs noted on Twitter.

Opposition lawmaker Hassan Abdul Karim said the law minister’s statement about the king was merely hearsay.

If there is a new decree from the king on the confidence vote, it “should be made in writing and informed to the public through an official media statement of the National Palace,” Hassan Abdul, an MP from the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Singapore-based newspaper The Straits Times cited an unnamed source as saying that the government’s unwillingness to hold a confidence vote stemmed from information it got from the main opposition coalition and PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar reportedly told the home minister that the Pakatan Harapan coalition would abstain if a confidence vote were to be held – potentially leading to instability for the new government.

Ismail Sabri ‘doesn’t want to run a risk’

Like his predecessor Muhyiddin, Ismail Sabri has a slim majority in parliament, which he would lose if just four MPs changed their minds and pulled support from him.

If the Pakatan coalition were to vote in his favor – during a hypothetical confidence vote – Ismail Sabri could shore up his numbers by at least 105, for a grand total of 219 out of 220 parliamentary seats.

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun believes Ismail Sabri may be dodging the confidence vote because he doesn’t trust some MPs from his own party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), voting for him.

“[E]specially the faction aligned to party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former premier Najib Razak who command 15 votes in the lower house,” the senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs told BenarNews.

“There is a possibility that Ismail Sabri will challenge Zahid in the next party election, therefore the MPs controlled by Zahid may or may not support him, so he doesn’t want to run a risk in a formal vote of confidence.”

Oh said the constitution does not mandate a confidence vote for a newly appointed PM, but it is convention that a leader with a slim majority should seek one to legitimize his rule.

“As long as he doesn’t do that, his government would always be considered as less than legitimate, or an illegitimate one, much like the government of Muhyiddin Yassin previously,” Oh said.

The former PM dodged a confidence vote for 17 months of his unelected government’s tenure, “and look at what happened to Muhyiddin finally, he had to step down, right?” Oh said.

The former PM resigned Aug, 16, after UMNO pulled support from his government.

Back then, Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party had relied on UMNO’s support. Now UMNO lawmaker and PM Ismail Sabri is relying on support from Bersatu and its 31 lawmakers.

The two parties have already – and again – started bickering, and some analysts had told BenarNews political instability would continue.

Elections next year?

One lawmaker from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu told local media outlet Free Malaysia Today that he expects a general election will be called next year, so there is no need for a confidence vote.

 “A full mandate can be obtained next year. For now, let us settle down and deliver our best to the people,” Mansor Othman said.

If an election is indeed held next year, it is likely that 7.5 million young voters will be added to the electoral rolls. A high court last week ruled that 18- to 21-year olds should be allowed to vote by Dec. 31.

Until elections are called, and whatever the outcome on the confidence vote issue, Malaysians are stuck with a second government they did not elect, netizen Dan Sebastian said.

“We are very confused,” he said on Twitter.

“Hope his majesty provides further clarification to small citizens like us whose elected government had been ‘hijacked’ and politics ‘maneuvered’ by ‘player’ politicians.”

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