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Malaysia’s biggest political party announced early on Thursday it was withdrawing its support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and called on him to resign, underlining the political instability plaguing the country as it struggles to contain a resurgent coronavirus.
Politics have been in flux since a power grab within the then-governing coalition led to its collapse at the end of February last year. Muhyiddin emerged as prime minister after convincing the king he had sufficient support in Parliament, but has been under pressure ever since.
The escalating COVID-19 crisis has added to the government’s woes, with much of the country, including the capital Kuala Lumpur and its richest state, Selangor, in lockdown, and hospitals at or near capacity.
Zahid Hamidi, the president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), said the party had decided to withdraw its backing for the prime minister because of its failure to tackle the pandemic.
His comments came just hours after Muhyiddin had promoted two UMNO leaders to top positions. UMNO is the largest component party in the governing coalition and dominated Malaysian politics for years before it lost power for the first time in May 2018. Wednesday’s promotions gave the party the previously unfilled post of deputy prime minister in addition to the senior cabinet posts it already holds.
Political analysts said UMNO’s move is unlikely to lead to the collapse of Muhyiddin’s government because it is not clear whether a stronger coalition can be formed to replace it. UMNO has said previously it will not cooperate with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim or the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Zahid is also battling dozens of corruption charges.
“As the country cannot go without a government and cannot have an election now, allowing Muhyiddin to stay in power as a minority government is the most reasonable solution,” said political analyst Wong Chin Huat. “But Muhyiddin must behave as one, not acting as if he still has a majority.”
Parliament was suspended in January after Muhyiddin declared an “Emergency“, citing the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed the government to rule by executive order.
Calls have been growing for Parliament to resume and it is now scheduled to sit for a few days from July 26.
The “Emergency” order is due to end on August 1.
On Thursday, local media reported Muhyiddin’s home in the upmarket neighbourhood of Damansara Heights was a “hive of activity” with a number of luxury vehicles seen arriving. Among the visitors were senior minister and now deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri, who is an UMNO vice president, as well as the Attorney General, according to The Vibes, an online news outlet.
Malaysia reported 91 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday with 10 people ‘brought in dead’ to hospital. The country’s total death toll now stands at 5,768 with 40 percent of those deaths taking place in the last 30 days.
The government has come under fire on a host of fronts including the pace of the vaccine rollout, its COVID-19 testing strategy, and lack of support for people who have lost their income as a result of successive lockdowns. It has also been criticised for continuing to allow factories to operate despite the lockdown.