Muhyiddin appeals for opposition backing as confidence vote looms

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is looking to the opposition to help shore up his unstable government, before an election he promises will be held by July 2022.   © Reuters

P PREM KUMAR, Nikkei staff writer | Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR — Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday publicly appealed to opposition lawmakers to help shore up his teetering government, promising to reward them accordingly.

In a televised address, Muhyiddin vowed not to succumb to pressure to resign, as doing so would jeopardize the country’s fight against COVID-19 and economic recovery. But in a move tantamount to acknowledging that he no longer controls a majority, the prime minister asked for bipartisan support in a confidence vote now planned for Sept. 7.

Muhyiddin pledged that if he stays on as prime minister, he will hold a general election by July next year. He also detailed perks he would offer in exchange, such as granting senior minister rank and treatment to an opposition leader, raising federal allocations for opposition members’ constituencies and providing more checks and balances in the parliamentary system.

If he wins two-thirds support in the lower house, Muhyiddin further promised to propose a motion that would limit premierships to two terms, while implementing a minimum voting age of 18 versus the current 21.

The prime minister confirmed that the ruling National Alliance coalition has commenced negotiations with opposition lawmakers to secure their support during the confidence motion.

Earlier, the opposition Hope Pact coalition had released a statement saying that its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, should be the sole name put forth to replace Muhyiddin. This was essentially a call for all lawmakers who oppose Muhyiddin to rally behind Anwar. Hope Pact’s presidential council, to which Anwar belongs, said this would ensure there is no confusion during a transfer of power.

But Muhyiddin on Friday evening argued that “there is no other member of parliament who is able to prove he has the support of the majority of the lower house to enable the king to appoint a new prime minister.”

He stressed, “What will then happen to our country if the political crisis continues and a new government cannot be formed at an immediate date? Which government will then ensure the vaccination program runs smoothly and on schedule?”

While the country continues to report around 20,000 virus cases a day, its vaccination rate has indeed progressed — reaching about 30% fully inoculated and 20% with one shot.

“I don’t intend to cling to power forever,” Muhyiddin said. “In the current situation, it is best that the mandate be returned to the people to elect a new government during the appropriate time. Thus I give my commitment now that the 15th general election will be held not later than July-end next year.”

Muhyiddin claimed that he “could have taken the easy way out by resigning.” But he argued that would have been detrimental to the country amid the crisis, and that there is no clear replacement in the existing lower house.

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