Critics have denounced the prime minister’s proposal for emergency rule as an attempt to maintain his grip on power.
The largest party in Malaysia’s ruling political alliance has declared its support for Muhyiddin Yassin, providing some respite for the prime minister who was facing calls for his resignation after the king rejected his plan to impose a state of emergency.
The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, which earlier this month threatened to withdraw support for Muhyiddin, said late on Monday it would now back him so the government could focus efforts on managing a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Muhyiddin, who has a razor-thin majority in parliament, is under pressure from unhappy coalition partners demanding more powerful positions and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who declared earlier this month he had sufficient support in parliament to form a government.
Malaysians are also upset over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after cases surged in the Borneo state of Sabah forcing a number of areas of the country back into a partial lockdown, known locally as a CMCO.
The country reported a record number of cases on Monday – 1,240 – and the CMCO in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya was extended for a further two weeks.
Muhyiddin’s government had said an emergency was necessary to control the pandemic, but the king rejected the proposal on Sunday amid an outcry among Malaysians. The last nationwide emergency was declared 50 years ago after race riots in Kuala Lumpur left many dead.
In its latest statement, UMNO also said it would not work with Anwar’s party, rejecting a proposal by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was found guilty of corruption in July in the first of a series of cases related to the multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB.
In a Monday meeting of the former ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which is dominated by UMNO, Najib asked MPs in the alliance to endorse Anwar, three sources familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.
Najib’s backing for Anwar – and Anwar’s willingness to work with Najib – would mark a striking turnaround in their recent relationship. Anwar’s party was part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition that defeated Najib and BN in May 2018 amid public outrage over the 1MDB scandal.
Muhyiddin has maintained a tenuous alliance with UMNO, whose backing was key in his bid to secure the leadership without an election in March, after political wrangling led to the resignation of veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister and a week of political turmoil.
Leaders in UMNO, which had led the country for more than 60 years until its defeat in 2018, are unhappy at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s party, which has fewer seats.
Amid the turmoil, some of UMNO’s corruption-tainted leaders, including Najib, have been trying to revive their political fortunes. Muhyiddin broke with UMNO over 1MDB, before joining the Pakatan Harapan coalition. The king appointed him prime minister after being convinced that the former home minister and one-time deputy prime minister had the support in parliament to govern.
Parliament is due to sit next week, with the government’s big test set for November 6 when the finance minister will present the budget for 2021.