Malaysian politics cannot get more interesting than this.
Last Friday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin admitted he no longer commanded the majority to helm the government — and neither did anyone else to replace him as prime minister.
To win opposition backing for the Sept 7 confidence vote, he pledged several reforms including a two-term limit for the prime minister, lowering the voting age to 18, opposition leader to be treated as a senior Cabinet minister, and promulgating laws to prevent defection of elected representatives.
Muhyiddin certainly was sincere when he made these offers; he didn’t want any interruption to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity of 80 percent by October.
Unfortunately, his olive branch offer came a tad too late. The opposition rejected the prime minister’s slew of reforms and insisted he should go.
Muhyiddin should have put forward his reforms months earlier and not wait until the imminent collapse of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration.
The PN chief apparently is able to command the support of only 100 MPs — 11 short of a simple majority — after Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi’s Umno faction officially withdrew support.
The prime minister is scheduled to meet the King today to hand in his resignation. This is what the opposition wants.
It’s up to the monarch to decide what action to take.
Who will replace Muhyiddin? Which political party is set to take the lead? Will DAP and PKR, who between them have 88 MPs, give their backing to whoever is picked by the Palace?
These are the questions on the minds of the rakyat.
Okay, Muhyiddin hands in his resignation today. What happens next? The King has to determine who commands the majority; at the moment there is no one who has a clear-cut majority support.
Under Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution, if the King is satisfied the prime minister no longer commands parliamentary support, he can require him (PM) to either advise dissolution or resign.
If the PM resigns, the King has a choice to appoint a new interim PM or ask the resigning PM to stay on in an interim capacity till a decision is made on who is to fill the vacancy. This was what happened in May 2020 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned.
Muhyiddin could stay on with his minority government while the process of determining who commands the majority support (at least 112 MPs) begins and this might take a few days.
Following Dr Mahathir’s abrupt resignation last year, the King interviewed all the 222 MPs to determine who had the majority to form the government. Muhyiddin, who had the support of political parties, including the opposition, was eventually picked as Malaysia’s eighth PM.
The King could do the same now.
There are several possible candidates, including Umno’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who, according to media reports, is said to have the backing of the majority of the PN coalition’s 100 MPs.
Then there is Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who has offered himself as an interim PM. At age 84, he might be considered old, but ‘Old Man’ Dr Mahathir who at 93 became PM in 2018 has shown that age is not a factor.
With 47 years in politics, Razaleigh is seen as a compromise candidate.
And don’t write off opposition leader and PM-in waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He has been making a bid for the No. 1 post for a while now but failed to provide the numbers.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition has 88 MPs, including 42 from DAP. All he needs to do is to get the support of Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s Warisan and Zahid Hamidi’s faction and he could be on his way to Putrajaya.
Apparently, Anwar was busy yesterday calling up Sarawak and Sabah MPs for support. Those from Sarawak were said to have turned down his courtship. But rumours had it that Sabah MPs were open to Anwar’s proposal to join his team.
There is also talk that Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Senior Minister in-charge of Security, could be approached if he could get enough support.
Of course, Muhyiddin can advise the King to dissolve Parliament for a snap polls. But this is highly unlikely considering that the country is going through a serious Covid-19 pandemic with record number of daily new cases and deaths. The next general election is not due until 2023.
Whatever the outcome today, all Malaysians want is for the new PM and his team to focus on the battle against Covid-19 and the economy.
And all I want is someone who will treat us, Sarawakians, as equals.