Malaysia’s King Summons MPs Said to Have Chosen UMNO Lawmaker for PM

S. Adie Zul, Nisha David and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysia’s King Summons MPs Said to Have Chosen UMNO Lawmaker for PM Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah gestures during a visit to the Jamek Sultan Abdul Samad Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, July 25, 2019.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia’s king has asked lawmakers who have named an UMNO MP as their choice for prime minister to meet with him on Thursday to verify their support for the candidate, a senior party leader said.

The royal summons, issued hours after all lawmakers were to send the king their prime ministerial choice, could mean that the United Malays National Organization is poised to return to power at the center. UMNO Secretary-General Ahmad Maslan confirmed the possibility late Wednesday.

“UMNO [and] BN components’ MPs along with MPs from three other parties have been summoned to the National Palace for an audience with the king on Thursday,” Maslan told BenarNews.

“Only the winning group would be invited to confirm their support at Istana Negara, meaning that, God willing, Ismail Sabri [Yaakob] is the winning candidate for prime minister,” he told his party’s fellow lawmakers via text message, local news outlet Malaysiakini reported.

If Ismail is named PM, the Malay-centric UMNO will be back in power a little over three years after being routed in elections for the first time in the country’s independent history, by Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan coalition.

The scandal-tainted UMNO, which ruled Malaysia for decades, said Tuesday that it had secured majority support for Ismail, the party’s vice president and deputy prime minister under Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned as PM on Monday.

However earlier on Wednesday, King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah announced that Malaysia’s next prime minister will have to call for a vote of confidence in parliament after being appointed to the post to prove that he or she controls a majority in the legislature.

The PM nominee “shall submit a motion of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat as soon as possible to legitimize the trust that he gained from the majority of the members of the Lower House,” National Palace Comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said in a statement.

The king’s decision marks a change from last year when he appointed Muhyiddin Yassin as leader without requiring a confidence vote in the legislature.

Parliament is set to open for a regular session on Sept. 6. It is not known at this time whether the session will be advanced to hold the confidence vote.

Council of Rulers to meet

On Tuesday, UMNO Supreme Council member Armand Azha Abu Hanifah told BenarNews that three other parties – Muhyiddin’s Bersatu, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) – and some smaller outfits and independents had agreed to back Ismail.

These parties together have 116 lawmakers in the 220-seat lower house of parliament. A prime minister needs the support of a simple majority of MPs – in this case 111 lawmakers.

The king had given all lawmakers until 4 p.m. on Wednesday to submit their signed declarations of support for a candidate of their choice.

The statement from the palace on Wednesday also said that the king would be meeting with Malaysia’s nine royal rulers on Friday to discuss “current issues.”

The statement did not specify when the king will pick the PM candidate. It said “he would name a PM as soon as possible because the protracted political crisis has affected the country’s Covid response amid a spike in new infections that again peaked to a record on Wednesday.

The king had ruled out fresh elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with no clear successor to Muhyiddin it fell to the monarch to pick a leader who commands majority support.


A view of the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, June 16, 2021. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

‘Eliminate future doubt’

The king’s decision on the confidence vote is a move to eliminate the uncertainty created by his last such appointment – that of the unelected Muhyiddin – constitutional expert Khairil Azmin Mokhtar said

“The King has the right to appoint the Prime Minister” under the constitution, Khairil, of the International Islamic University Malaysia, told BenarNews.

“The vote of confidence will show that the selection was done accordingly and will eliminate future doubt over the Prime Minister’s legitimacy.”

Rabi’ah Aminudin, a political analyst and academic, believes the vote of confidence would minimize the risk of further political instability.

“As Malaysia does not have anti-hopping law in place, this is necessary to prevent the jumping ship act by MPs which will lead to further political uncertainty – and to make sure MPs are accountable to their decisions,” she told BenarNews, referring to defections.

For instance, some lawmakers from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party quit and pledged support to Muhyiddin’s shaky coalition in March. Anwar has said the MPs had been threatened or offered enticements to quit.

Muhyiddin’s 17-month controversial tenure was beset with instability. He was appointed by the king after Mahathir Mohamad resigned as PM in February 2020 amid infighting in the veteran leader’s coalition.

Muhyiddin then relied on UMNO’s backing to receive the king’s support to take over as prime minister in March 2020. But Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party and UMNO had a fractious relationship almost from the start of their alliance.

Muhyiddin’s reign came to an end after UMNO – the largest party in the now-former ruling bloc – said in July that 15 of its lawmakers had pulled parliamentary support for the PM.

Now, UMNO is banking on support from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu and its 31 lawmakers.


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