Malaysia’s PM Unlikely to Face No-Confidence Vote, Analysts Say

Muzliza Mustafa, Hadi Azmi, Noah Lee and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysia’s PM Unlikely to Face No-Confidence Vote, Analysts Say Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin gestures during a virtual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 20, 2020.

Updated at 10:13 a.m. ET on 03-02-2021

As Muhyiddin Yassin enters his second year as Malaysia’s unelected prime minister, he is unlikely to face a no-confidence vote if parliament reconvenes, despite persistent concerns he may have lost majority support, analysts told BenarNews.

Muhyiddin got an unexpected anniversary gift on the weekend, when two opposition lawmakers pledged support for him, days after a shock announcement from the king that parliament can indeed sit during an emergency sparked speculation that the PM would be in trouble.

Constitutionally, it is Muhyiddin who has to recommend to the king that the house can have a session, said Barjoyai Bardai, an academic at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak.

“On parliament reconvening, even though the king said that, for parliament to convene, the PM has to advise the king. Looking at it through common sense, the PM will not do that,” Bardai told BenarNews.

A parliament session will be put off for as long as possible, James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, also told BenarNews.

Muhyiddin had suspended the legislature when the king declared the emergency on Jan. 12, a move widely criticized by the opposition.

Even if the PM is pressured to advise the king to reconvene parliament, it is unlikely a motion of no-confidence will be allowed to be tabled, two analysts said.

“No, what’s the point? Even if convened, it doesn’t mean a vote of no confidence will be allowed to take place,” Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews.

“The king simply said parliament could be convened, and not that Muhyiddin should step down.”

Oh’s comments were echoed by Tunku Mohar Mokhtar of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

The analysts noted that the parliament speaker did not allow no-confidence motions to be tabled last year by either opposition or ruling coalition lawmakers, saying he didn’t have the authority to allow it.

Some of the motions by ruling coalition members were denied amid infighting in the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition between Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that dominates the ruling bloc.

'UMNO won’t support no-confidence motion'

Meanwhile, UMNO is unlikely to bring a no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin, said Annuar Musa, a minister and member of the party, and Mustafa Shah Abdul Hamid, an UMNO youth leader

“I do not think UMNO will support [a no-confidence motion] because Barisan Nasional MPs supported PN to form a government,” Hamid told BenarNews, referring to the bloc that UMNO leads.

“I have not heard of any movement in UMNO for vote of no confidence...and I feel there is no necessity in taking that action.”

Musa said the stance of UMNO’s supreme council that Muhyiddin’s coalition must be supported still stands, even though some people supported calls for snap polls by UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in January.

UMNO sacked Musa from his post as Barisan’s secretary general for speaking out against Zahid’s call for snap polls.

Musa didn’t name names, but said that those in UMNO who are unhappy with Muhyiddin are displeased because the PM isn’t helping them get rid of courts cases against them.

“UMNO is splitting from within and that is the truth,” Musa said, adding the current government “has never been strong.”

Muhyiddin’s advice to the king to declare an emergency occurred at the same time the PM lost the support of two UMNO lawmakers, which nominally left him without majority support in parliament, lawmakers said at the time.

But on Sunday, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of his government, Muhyiddin announced on social media that two MPs from the main opposition party, Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, had switched their allegiance to his Perikatan Nasional ruling coalition.

This defection offset the January decision of a pair of UMNO lawmakers to pull their support for the government.

Anwar on Monday alleged that Muhyiddin had used underhanded means to engineer the defection of the two lawmakers from PKR.

'I understand the meaning of democracy’

Muhyiddin was sworn as Malaysia's prime minister on March 1, 2020, a week after the government of Mahathir Mohamad collapsed, in part because Muhyiddin deserted it.

He then formed an alliance with UMNO, the scandal-ridden party that he had helped Mahathir topple in the historic 2018 election that brought about the first change of government in Malaysia history.

Muhyiddin's ascent to power was met with howls of protest from citizens who accused him of forming "a back-door government," but such concerns were soon eclipsed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, his small Bersatu party and UMNO are at times uncomfortable bedfellows, and the actual count of MPs who support him remains a mystery. 

Muhyiddin on Monday reiterated that he imposed the emergency – Malaysia’s first since 1969 – only to deal more efficiently with the COVID-19 pandemic, and not to hold on to power like many in opposition allege.

“I understand the meaning of democracy,” the PM said, in a televised address to mark the one-year anniversary of his government.

The emergency was not “meant for me to occupy the prime minister’s seat for a long time. I do not know which party now has more seats than me. …I’m convinced that my position is constitutionally right. Legal. I cannot be an illegitimate PM,” he told state news agency Bernama TV a day earlier.

The PM added that when the pandemic is under control, he will advise the king to dissolve parliament so that an election can be held.

“When we are done with it [the pandemic], I don’t want to wait even a day [to hold elections],” the PM said.

UMNO’s Musa said Muhyiddin would be true to his word.

“The PM has wanted to have elections since last year,” Musa said.

Musa also said the government had dealt with the pandemic admirably.

“Never in the history of the Malaysian government has any administration been faced with so many problems – political, pandemic and economic – all at the same time, and here we are, we managed to control COVID-19. I see that the cabinet functioning very well. Very harmoniously, and with swift decision making,” Musa said.

Coronavirus infections have fallen off in Malaysia since reaching a peak at the end of January.

An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect figure for deaths in Malaysia.


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