Malaysia on the verge of political crisis as a major ally pulls support for the prime minister

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP) —Malaysia faced a new political crisis on Thursday after the ruling party’s largest party announced that it would withdraw support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, urging new leaders to give way.

This announcement could trigger the collapse of Muhyiddin’s unelected government and new elections, but it is unlikely to occur during a coronavirus pandemic. Muhyiddin and his allies did not comment immediately.

Muhyiddin came to power in March 2020 after beginning the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 elections. His Berthatu party has formed a new government in collaboration with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which was expelled in a 2018 poll, but the alliance is unstable with a very thin majority in parliament.

UMNO President Ahmadzahidhamidi said earlier Thursday that the Muhyiddin government was unable to curb the coronavirus pandemic. He said its inconsistent policies and half-hearted blockades add to the financial difficulties.

Zahid resigned to Muhyiddin and urged temporary leaders to take over until the pandemic was eased and the general election was safe.

“This is important to enable the formation of a truly stable and empowered government of the majority of the people,” he said after a meeting of UMNO’s highest decision-making bodies.

The UMNO decision came shortly after Muhyiddin nominated Defense Minister Ismail Sabri from UMNO as Deputy Minister and persuaded him to stay in the party. Dissatisfied with UMNO playing Versatu’s second fiddle, tensions have been brewed in the ruling alliance for months.

Muhyiddin’s office also said Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein will take over Ismail’s post as one of four senior ministers. Both Ismail and Hishammuddin hold a security portfolio and a diplomatic portfolio, respectively.

Analysts said Muhyiddin divided UMNO by appointing a secondary leader to the cabinet and strengthened it with a new appointment. Local media reported that Ismail had opposed Zahid’s plan to withdraw from the ruling alliance at the UMNO meeting, but did not make public comments.

UMNO has 38 members, but only 15 members of the party’s highest decision-making body, so it’s unclear if all of them, especially cabinet members, will agree with the party’s policy.

“There was a 17-month political deal and things came to mind now. UMNO has a public war and the government is still trying to maintain power,” he said.

There is no clear majority coalition in parliament. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim may seek support, but Zahid said UMNO would not support his candidacy for prime minister.

UMNO said earlier this year that the party would not cooperate with Muhyiddin’s alliance in the next general election. The attempt to seek an early election has been plagued by the exacerbation of the coronavirus crisis, and the country has fallen into its second national blockade since June 1.

Zahid said the pandemic death toll in Malaysia has doubled to 5,768 since the blockade began. The total number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Malaysia is now close to 800,000, with more than 7,000 daily infections in the last two days.

He said Muhyiddin abused the coronavirus emergency declared in January for his political interests. Support for the emergency-suspended parliament, Muhyiddin’s leadership, is not tested.

Muhyiddin agreed to reopen Parliament on July 26, prior to the expiration of the emergency on August 1, after increased pressure, including pressure from the King.

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