Pressure mounts on Muhyiddin to hold early election to capitalise on PH feuding

Calls for snap polls in Malaysia are getting harder to resist for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s ruling pact, following the opposition’s intractable feuding over its prime ministerial candidate.

The Sunday Times understands that some in Perikatan Nasional (PN) want ballots as early as August, which would lead to Parliament being dissolved before the government’s slim majority can be tested in a highly anticipated July sitting.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's legitimacy has been questioned by predecessor Mahathir Mohamad.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s legitimacy has been questioned by predecessor Mahathir Mohamad. -PHOTO: AFP/MALAYSIA’S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION

Umno, the largest party in PN, believes the public vote will restore its erstwhile dominance. It had pushed for an election even during the so-called Sheraton Move back in February, which led to the ousting of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

Barely three months after Tan Sri Muhyiddin – president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), who led about 40 MPs out of PH – was sworn in as premier on March 1, Umno started declaring its readiness for an election, which is not due until the third quarter of 2023.

This rhetoric culminated last Thursday in Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan saying that with Singapore going to the polls on July 10 – six months before its parliamentary term expires – “Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin should do the same without delay”.

“The nation cannot continue being dragged into uncertainty and the possibility of a change of government every few months. Only a government that has a mandate and comfortable majority in Parliament can function well,” he said.

The Sunday Times has learnt that Umno, whose six-decade rule came to a shocking end in 2018, is among several parties in the ruling coalition that have already mobilised for an election.

This is particularly evident in Sabah, where ongoing efforts to topple Mahathir-allied Chief Minister Shafie Apdal could result in the easternmost state dissolving its legislature.

“Everyone in PN wants it (an early election), especially with PH in shambles,” one ruling-pact official said.

Meanwhile, the opposition is torn over whether Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim or Dr Mahathir should become prime minister in an attempted counter-coup, and the same dilemma applies over who will lead them to the polls.

PH officials are bracing themselves for the possibility that they may end up contesting against each other should the two camps not reconcile, The Sunday Times has learnt, with leaders from across the opposition – except those from Datuk Seri Anwar’s PKR – proposing Datuk Seri Shafie as a compromise candidate.

STABILITY NEEDED – The nation cannot continue being dragged into uncertainty and the possibility of a change of government every few months. Only a government that has a mandate and comfortable majority in Parliament can function well.

UMNO DEPUTY PRESIDENT MOHAMAD HASAN, in calling for an election.

According to official sources, Mr Muhyiddin is considering another round of expenditure, even after Malaysia launched its fourth stimulus package this month to help soften the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This could possibly mean an election budget in November, before the Premier seeks a fresh five-year term.

But there is growing concern that with a six-month loan moratorium ending in October and debt payments resuming, a private consumption crunch could stop the economy from rebounding.

An exclusive report in The Straits Times on June 12 revealed that the Premier has been gearing up to claim his own mandate amid accusations that his PN government was formed via defections and not through clear victory at the polls, and that it lacks a parliamentary majority.

Bersatu supreme councillor Wan Saiful Wan Jan had confirmed that the “PM has been meeting grassroots rank and file and has also instructed all party leaders to ramp up election preparation”.

Mr Muhyiddin’s legitimacy has been questioned by his predecessor, Dr Mahathir, who insisted that he still commanded 115 MPs on March 1 – three more than the 112 needed to control Parliament.

The federal legislature’s meetings in March were postponed, and the one-day sitting on May 18 ended without any debate, although there were 114 MPs on the government bench during the Malaysian King’s 45-minute opening speech.

This means the first real test of the Premier’s majority will come during the session scheduled for July 13 to August 25. But should an August election be called, Parliament could be dismissed prior to reconvening, as polling day must fall within 60 days of dissolution.

Sources say several PN parties are already locked in negotiations over the 222 parliamentary and 505 state assembly seats to be contested.

Although most parties in the fledgling coalition came from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) and faced numerous elections together, candidates from both Bersatu and the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia will now have to be accommodated to avoid multi-cornered battles.

Some PN strategists believe their combined support among Malays will deliver nearly all of the roughly 120 seats needed for a majority, and even help push towards a two-thirds supermajority of at least 148 MPs, a comfortable situation last enjoyed by BN prior to the 2008 election.

By Shannon Teoh – THE STRAITS TIMES

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