Malaysian PM Gets Reprieve as Key Coalition Ministers Agree Not to Quit

Ray Sherman and S. Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
2021-03-31
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Malaysian PM Gets Reprieve as Key Coalition Ministers Agree Not to Quit Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (center) chairs a cabinet meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, March 31, 2021.
[Photo courtesy the Prime Minister’s Office]

Malaysian Prime Minister Muyhiddin Yasin can breathe a sigh of relief after convincing ministers from a key coalition partner not to quit his cabinet, and as a significant Islamic party said Wednesday that it would work with his party for the next general election.

Muhyiddin’s announcement Wednesday about an agreement with the nine ministers from the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in the ruling bloc, came days after UMNO leaders said they may quit before the election and ask their ministers to resign.

“I advised them to remain in the cabinet,” Muhyiddin said in a statement, adding that he had reached an agreement with the UMNO ministers on Monday.

“This is in the name of the people and the country, as I feel that the government’s focus should now be on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, carrying out the national immunization program, and fixing the country’s economy,” said the unelected prime minister who came to power 13 months ago after the collapse of the previous Pakatan Harapan government.

“God willing, on my advice, an agreement was reached that all UMNO ministers will remain in the cabinet.”

Neither Muhyiddin nor any of the UMNO ministers said how long the agreement would be in place.

The PM said that several UMNO lawmakers currently held important portfolios in the government and their resignations would affect the government’s plan to combat the pandemic and revive the economy.

At least three of the nine UMNO ministers confirmed to local media that they would not be resigning from the posts in the cabinet when the country is still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said at the party’s general assembly over the weekend that the rank-and-file had approved withdrawing from the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition whenever the top leaders of the party decided it was time to go.

And that included the party’s ministers quitting the government.

UMNO leaders had earlier pledged to back Muhyiddin’s government until the national polls. The election date has not been announced, but the PM has promised polls will be held when the pandemic subsides.

UMNO and several other opposition parties have criticized Muhyiddin for advising the king in January to impose a national emergency over the pandemic. The PM suspended parliament after the king declared the emergency.

Besides, UMNO’s alliance with Muhyiddin’s Bersatu has been rocky for months. UMNO feels it has not reaped the rewards of holding the most parliamentary seats in the ruling coalition, observers had noted.

‘Muhyiddin needs supports and he got it’

Meanwhile, the joint statement issued Wednesday by the conservative Pan-Islamic Malaysian Party (PAS) alongside Bersatu also came after UMNO leaders over the weekend appeared to prod the faith-based party into declaring which side it would be on.

Without mentioning Muhyiddin’s Perikatan coalition, UMNO’s Zahid had said that his party and PAS – who are part of another alliance called Muafakat Nasional – had agreed not to hastily join other pacts, local media reported.

“Being with the other side doesn’t bring any gain, let alone getting more seats,” Zahid said at the general assembly, in the presence of top PAS leaders who attended the event.

PAS seemed to disagree with Zahid, based on its joint announcement with Bersatu that the two parties would cooperate for the next election.

“Bersatu and PAS will work closely together in the PN coalition to prepare for the general election; and the two parties, as the pioneers of the PN coalition, will set up a committee at the central level to discuss matters including seat distribution,” the statement by the two parties said.

Until now, PAS had been trying to play peacemaker between Bersatu and UMNO, as it believed that the three parties together had a solid chance of winning the next election. And analysts had said both Muhyiddin and Zahid were vying for PAS’s support.

Muhyiddin scored with this alliance with PAS, said political analyst Tunku Mohar Mokhtar.

“Muhyiddin needs support and he got it. He got PAS to side with him,” Mokhtar, who teaches at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, told BenarNews.

Still, the PM and his Perikatan coalition would be in trouble if they don’t advise the king to call elections when the emergency – scheduled to end Aug. 1 – is lifted, Mokhtar said.

UMNO had agreed to support the Muhyiddin government until August, Mohamad Hasan, the party’s deputy president, said over the weekend.

“Let’s say the emergency is lifted in August but there’s no definite date for elections, and when UMNO ministers resign as per the general assembly’s resolution, the PN coalition will fall,” Mokhtar said.

“But anything may happen in Malaysian politics. There may even be a mutiny in UMNO.”

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