Muhy still the winner every which way
Published on: Sunday, July 18, 2021
By: Jamari Mohtar
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WHILE the frontliners are working very hard to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system in light of the increasing number of Covid-19 daily infections in the three states, Umno is working very hard to ensure the collapse of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government helmed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

In early January, the government had a majority of 112 over the Opposition’s 108 – the total comes up to 220 seats instead of 222 because of the death of two MPs.

There are a total of 222 seats in the Malaysian parliament, making 111 as the number that denotes a hung parliament. Any political party or coalition that garners more than 111 seats forms a majority government even if the majority is of one seat.

Similarly, a minority government of less than 111 seats is a possibility although Malaysia has never experienced a situation where the ruling coalition has less than 111 seats. 

In early January, two Umno MPs – Ahmad Jazlan Yaacob and Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz – withdrew their support for the government, reducing its majority to a tie 110 vs 110, making the government for the first time a minority one. 

However, this did not last long when a few months later, three Opposition MPs – Xavier Jayakumar, Steven Choong and Larry S’ng – crossed over to become Independents friendly to PN, changing the tally to 113 vs 107 for the government, a majority of two seats set against the benchmark of a hung parliament (111 seats) and a majority of six seats over the Opposition.

And just a few weeks ago, with Nazri back to supporting PN, the score is now 114 vs 106 – a majority of three seats set against a hung parliament, and a majority of eight seats over the Opposition.

Malaysia is now bracing for political uncertainties with the midnight announcement of Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on July 7 following a meeting of its Supreme Council that Umno will pull out from the PN government with immediate effect.

This is more a sign of Umno’s downward path to oblivion rather than the collapse of the PN government because of the so many confusions arising from Zahid’s midnight speech.

In the first place, he didn’t make it clear whether this pullout includes Umno’s MPs because it is the Umno MPs and not its Supreme Council that is crucial for the collapse of the PN government.

And all 38 Umno MPs were reported to have issued a statement (July 9) supporting the PN government which was pooh-poohed by former president Najib Razak. 

He could be right because among Umno MPs, there is a group – the so-called court cluster – facing trial on corruption charges including Najib and Zahid who would not support the PN government but have never made an official announcement saying they no longer support Muhyiddin.

And it didn’t help matters when Najib explained it away the day after Zahid’s midnight speech that Umno is not against the PN government but only against the PM, and so the rationale for Zahid’s call for Muhyiddin to resign to make way for a new interim PM in his speech.

But an interim PM as opposed to a caretaker PM is something not provided for in the Constitution. It came into being when former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamed willingly resigned in February last year and refused to reconsider his resignation despite the Agong’s advice not to resign, and was appointed as the interim PM.

Will Muhyiddin resign willingly to make way for an interim PM? Even if he does, just like Mahathir, he could be appointed again as the interim PM. It is all up to the King and not Zahid or Najib.




The question now is when the daily infection number is on the rise and the rakyat is deeply affected by the pandemic with more losing jobs causing both the crime and suicide rates to go north – a fact recognised by Zahid in his midnight speech – is it worth the effort to collapse the government or to aim for a change in PM?

The King has called for parliament to be convened as soon as possible so that the Emergency Ordinances and the National Recovery Plan can be debated among MPs in the fight against the virus. 

But instead of preparing this, the Umno leadership is aiming for a collapse of the government or demanding the resignation of the PM, which is the same as calling for the collapse of the government despite the acrobatic semantics of Najib.

And the Pakatan Harapan presidential council too in calling for the resignation of Muhyiddin is falling into the same trap as Umno, despite veteran DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang having time and again reassured Muhyiddin that a vote of confidence won’t be held should parliament convene.

With a majority of eight over the Opposition, his government can be brought down when nine Umno MPs withdraw their support. Currently we have one Umno MP – Ahmad Jazlan – that has withdrawn support. So, Umno needs eight more MPs to withdraw support.

We can count on the certainty of Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and the three members of Umno’s court cluster – Zahid, Najib and Ahmad Maslan – to withdraw support, but still there is a need for another four in order to engineer the collapse of the government. 

Assuming it is a breeze to get these four – so there you go a total of nine that will bring down the government. But will the government be brought down immediately?

Obviously no, because it would just mean the PM has to seek an audience with the King in his capacity as a PM intact to explain to the King that he has lost the majority. 

There are two scenarios here, assuming dissolution of parliament is not an option because of the pandemic, and it all depends on the King:

- His Majesty agrees with the PM and by convention will appoint him as a caretaker PM, while the King decides on who among the MPs has the majority to become the new PM;

- The King is not satisfied with the PM’s explanation that he has lost the majority, and will thereby seek to ascertain for himself that Muhyiddin has lost the majority. Only when the King is satisfied, will the collapse of the government become official. 

In that event, the King will nevertheless appoint Muhyiddin as the caretaker PM by convention, while he will seek to ascertain for himself who among the MPs has the majority. 

And the big question then is who among the MPs will have a majority? 

When it is nine Umno MPs who brought down the government, the score will be 105 votes for Muhyiddin. The nearest MP after Muhyiddin with substantial vote is Anwar Ibrahim with 88 votes.

Anwar may face bigger hurdles in raising the “strong, formidable and convincing” number, especially when Zahid had said in the media statement of “no PH, no DAP and no Anwar.” 

But such bravado means nothing if suddenly the political ambition or end goal far overwhelmed principles.

But Muhyiddin’s tally can go down if more Umno MPs withdraw their support. The only way for support of Muhyiddin to go down below Anwar’s 88 is when 18 more Umno MPs – giving a total of 27 Umno MPs – withdraw their support for Muhyiddin. 

As the above possibility is very remote, Muhyiddin will end as the PM again, this time being a leader of a minority government. 

So why bother to go through all the above when Muhyiddin will likely be the PM again, and when the effect of this process will only bring political instability to the country?

On July 9, new Covid-19 cases were 9,180, breaching the previous peak of 9,020 on May 29 which signalled the start of the fifth wave. Let common sense prevail and forget about all this politicking and set our mind to focus on containing this wave.

The rakyat really don’t give a hoot whether the government will collapse or Anwar become the prime minister. 

All they want is return to normalcy with the pandemic being transformed into an endemic virus like the common cold where we can afford to coexist with it without a staggering loss of lives. Let’s all help the rakyat to achieve this.

- Jamari Mohtar is Director, Media & Communications at EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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