No-confidence in the Prime Minister

In February 2020, a series of sudden, backdoor political arrangements shook the Pakatan Harapan government just two years after its historic general election win. Striking an end to a week of political turmoil, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned, paving the way for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to be appointed the next Prime Minister of Malaysia by the Agong. This follows the Agong’s constitutional right to appoint someone if they command the confidence of the majority of the Members of the lower parliament, otherwise known as the Dewan Rakyat. Now, as the current Perikatan Nasional government grapples to contain the Coronavirus pandemic, another danger is rising – this time from a familiar face. 

On the 8th of May, Parliamentary Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md. Yusoff accepted a motion submitted by Mahathir Mohamad. Initially scheduled to be tabled on the 18th of May, Mahathir called for a parliamentary no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Muhyiddin. This motion represents a test not only to prove Muhyiddin’s command of the forever important lower parliament but also the legitimacy of his appointment in the first place.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad looks on (source)

In light of such a motion, Muhyiddin received a boost in his bid to remain Prime Minister as Barisan Nasional (BN) declared its undivided support for him. BN, a political coalition which Muhyiddin was a member of previously, consists of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS). In total, they amount to 43 parliamentary seats which are key to commanding the required 112 simple majority of the total 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat.

BN chairman and UMNO president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who undersigned the statement of support. (source)

Following strict COVID-19 guidelines, the Dewan Rakyat had voted beforehand to limit its seating on the 18th of May to conduct only one order of business. Of which, the ceremonial address by the Agong was deemed to be more important than the motion. This spells bad news for Mahathir’s motion as the next session is most likely to occur in July. Given this, Mahathir, frustrated at the block of his motion, commented:

“How can this be called a government when MPs are not allowed to speak even when there is a parliamentary sitting? … [As a result] this government is, in fact, illegitimate, I think Muhyiddin is illegitimate.”

Estimates of the number of seats and their potential siding [Last updated: 8th May 2020]. (source)

With the seats expected to be largely split in the middle for each of the respective parties involved, this delay can mean good fortune for both. It allows for both parties to consolidate its support if and when the time will come to table the contested no-confidence motion. However, this can also mean the introduction of more fractures into the already volatile world of Malaysian politics.

Written by Sofiyan Ivan Shahran.

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