Malaysian leader set to resign after plea for support fails

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — With his last-ditch plan to seek opposition backing for his government rejected, embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday appeared set to resign after failing to cobble up majority support.

Mohamad Redzuan Mohamad Yusof, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said Muhyiddin will submit his resignation to the king on Monday.

“Tomorrow, there will be a special Cabinet meeting. After that, he is expected to have an audience with the king and present his resignation,” Redzuan told The Associated Press.

He said the premier informed members of his Bersatu party at a meeting Sunday that he had exhausted all avenues to sustain his administration and resigning was the last resort. Redzuan said Muhyiddin will point out to the monarch that his alliance still has the biggest bloc of support despite losing the majority.

If he steps down Monday and it is accepted by the palace, it would spark fresh political uncertainties and a second change of government since the pandemic began last year.

“It is up to the King to use his wisdom to make a decision,” Redzuan added.

Over a dozen lawmakers from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the largest party in the ruling alliance, have pulled their support for the government, which is enough to cause its collapse because of its razor-thin majority. Two UMNO ministers have 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.

Muhyiddin initially insisted he still has majority support and would prove this in Parliament next month. But in a U-turn Friday, the premier acknowledged he may have lost majority support in Parliament and sought the backing of opposition parties to keep his government from collapsing.

The prime minister promised to call general elections by next July. He also offered a raft of benefits, including proposals to limit the prime minister’s tenure, bolster checks and balances and a senior minister role to the opposition leader in return for their support. But all opposition parties have rejected the olive branch, calling it open bribery and demanding Muhyiddin resign.

“His coalition government has lost face. It is looking most likely that Muhyiddin is going to resign but its not clear who will be taking over and when,” said Bridget Welsh of Malaysia’s University of Nottingham, an expert on Southeast Asian politics.

Muhyiddin can advise the king to dissolve Parliament and call for early polls, but this is not a likely option with daily infections breaching 20,000.

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 112 needed for a simple majority. That’s also less than the 100 lawmakers believed to be backing Muhyiddin.

Some local media said UMNO, the biggest party in the ruling alliance, is pushing one of its lawmakers to replace Muhyiddin, in order to keep the alliance intact. But it’s unclear if a deal can be struck and if the king will accept it.

Muhyiddin’s party also appeared to reject the UMNO plan. Redzuan said letting the party take over the top job “would send the wrong signal.” Some party leaders are facing criminal charges and Muhyiddin claims he was approached to interfere in the cases.

“We see a situation where king has to decide if this is about Muhyiddin the man or Muhyiddin’s government,” which has lost majority support, Welsh said. “The focus should be to ensure a peaceful transition to better manage the COVID-19 crisis.”

Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. His party joined hands with UMNO and several others to form a new government that’s been unstable. UMNO has been unhappy with playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s smaller party.

Muhyiddin had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval since January after suspending Parliament under a state of emergency declared to battle the coronavirus. Critics said he used the emergency, which expired on August 1, to avoid a vote in Parliament that would show he had lost majority support.

Public anger with his government mounted after a lockdown imposed in June failed to contain the virus, with daily cases soaring above 20,000 this month. Malaysia has reported more than 1.36 million confirmed infections since the pandemic began and more than 12,000 deaths.

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