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Muhyiddin blocks any further attempts to oust him as Malaysia's prime minister

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Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin now looks set to put off any vote of confidence in Parliament until next month.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has postponed Monday's (Aug 2) parliamentary sitting, blocking any further attempts to remove him from office following the government's decision to revoke emergency ordinances without the consent of the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.

In an unprecedented move last Thursday, Sultan Abdullah expressed "extreme disappointment" in the government and accused top officials directly of acting illegally.

But the embattled premier, already saddled with doubts about his parliamentary majority, is still in office. Moreover, the government appears unscathed with de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan and Attorney General Idrus Harun still expected to clock in tomorrow in spite of the Palace singling them out for breaking an agreement with the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, to submit the Cabinet's decision to revoke emergency ordinances for parliamentary approval.

Despite being vilified by not just the opposition, but even by allies in his ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact as well as on social media, Tan Sri Muhyiddin has chosen to dig his heels in, insisting that the Constitution obliges the King to accept the government's advice and endorse the cancellation of the ordinances.

The Opposition has demanded that the ordinances be debated in Parliament, which could potentially lead to a test of the premier's majority.

But the Muhyiddin administration has refused to allow for the debate during the latest five-day "special sitting", saying this was meant to discuss aspects of the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The government has done away with any possibility of the issue being raised tomorrow because the five-day session has been cut short. On Saturday (July 31), it was announced that Parliament would be adjourned to an unspecified date after 11 Covid-19 cases were detected among those attending the session.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition has cried foul over the suspension, insisting that the number of cases was not significant enough to vacate proceedings as it represented less than 1 per cent of the total number of people tested.

Both the King and Umno president Zahid Hamidi, who in the past month has persistently agitated for his party - the largest in government - to withdraw support for Mr Muhyiddin, could apply further pressure on the premier.

On Friday, a purported leaked letter from the King to Mr Muhyiddin explaining the reasons for withholding consent for the revocation of the ordinances went viral. More royal rebukes would further erode the premier's standing among the majority Malay Muslim electorate, who revere the monarchy as constitutional guardians of their interests.

"Any rush to cancel the emergency ordinances without being tabled in Parliament will have a negative impact on us," the letter read.

Despite Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is deputy premier, insisting that the government continues to enjoy the support of more than half of Parliament, Mr Zahid could call for Malaysia's biggest and oldest Malay Muslim party to align itself with royalty, constitutional guardians of Malay and Islamic interests.

The Prime Minister now looks set to put off any vote of confidence in Parliament until September, in the hopes that an accelerated vaccination programme would finally ease the Covid-19 crisis which has seen the number of infections and deaths setting records since May.

He could then pave the way for the fresh election that he has promised.

Or, he could offer an olive branch to the Opposition, hoping for bipartisan support for what the former deputy trade minister Ong Kian Ming, an opposition member, calls a "Covid Moratorium Agreement".

Given that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is widely believed to have fewer backers than Mr Muhyiddin despite repeatedly claiming to have the numbers to form government, this could offer his Pakatan Harapan coalition the chance to push for the reforms they have called for in politics as well as in the economic and health spheres.

Political scientist Wong Chin Huat said the Prime Minister "can instruct all ministers to reach out to opposition MPs and government backbenchers for policy input". The September sitting is due to begin with the King's speech, which by convention is a test of the government's majority as it outlines the administration's agenda for the parliamentary session.

"If the royal address shows a roadmap of multipartisan governance... the Opposition will lose the justification to vote it down when they cannot offer an alternative majority government," said Professor Wong of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia at Sunway University.

Key players

Muhyiddin Yassin, 74
Prime Minister

Tan Sri Muhyiddin succeeded Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as premier in March last year. Both men were from the same Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which was part of the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. Mr Muhyiddin and a good number of his party colleagues defected from the PH coalition, leading eventually to the collapse of that government. A new coalition, the Perikatan Nasional (PN), then took the reins of power in Putrajaya. But it rules with a slim majority, often under pressure from Umno, the biggest party in PN.

In January, Mr Muhyiddin sought emergency powers to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, assented, resulting in the suspension of Parliament for seven months. The move also prevented a no-confidence vote from being tabled against the Premier in Parliament.

Last week, the monarch and the Premier clashed, with the King taking the unprecedented step of rebuking the government, saying that he had not agreed to the revoking of emergency ordinances. Mr Muhyiddin, though, defended the government's decision.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, 68
UMNO President

Zahid took over the helm of this storied party from former premier Najib Razak, who led the party as well as the Barisan Nasional coalition to the loss in the 2018 election, the first time since independence more than 60 years ago that Umno had lost power. Many attributed the loss to Najib's involvement in one of the largest financial scandals in the world involving the state investment firm, 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Like Najib, Zahid is tied up in dozens of graft charges, and remains outside of Mr Muhyiddin's Cabinet.

Umno and Mr Muhyiddin's Bersatu have always been at loggerheads over primacy in the ruling pact, and Zahid has consistently threatened to withdraw Umno's support for PN.

An Umno Supreme Council meeting in October ended with a decision to continue backing PN, but earlier this month, it resolved to withdraw its support over Mr Muhyiddin's "failure" to fulfil the conditions outlined by Umno when it backed him as prime minister in March last year.

There is widespread speculation that a faction headed by Zahid wants the party to break away from PN and team up with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's PH to form a new government. But a rival faction in Umno, which includes two Cabinet ministers, prefers to retain the status quo until the next general election.

The recent royal rebuke has renewed calls by Zahid and his party for Mr Muhyiddin to step down.

Anwar Ibrahim, 74
Opposition Leader

Datuk Seri Anwar has eyed the premiership for over two decades since he was sacked as deputy premier by then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, in 1998. Late last year, he claimed to have secured a "strong, convincing, formidable majority" to form a new government and that the Muhyiddin administration had "collapsed". But nothing materialised, even after he gained a royal audience on Oct 13.

Mr Anwar, who has not denied speculation of a possible electoral pact with Umno, also called for Mr Muhyiddin's resignation following the royal rebuke.

Mr Anwar filed a fresh motion of no confidence against the Premier on Thursday, but it was not addressed following the adjournment of the special parliamentary sitting till tomorrow. The sitting has now been postponed.

Mahathir Mohamad, 96
Former Prime Minister

Dr Mahathir is the longest-serving prime minister in Malaysia, serving twice in the role, most recently at the helm of the PH. Early last year, he refused to join Mr Muhyiddin in leaving PH and resigned as premier.

Dr Mahathir has repeatedly called for a vote of no confidence in Parliament to determine if Mr Muhyiddin still commands majority support. He has also mooted a proposal for reviving a National Operations Council (Mageran) - similar to that set up after the May 1969 riots - that will function as a caretaker government to resolve the nation's current health, economic and political crises.

Following Mr Muhyiddin's clash with the King, Dr Mahathir said that powers to revoke emergency ordinances lay solely in the hands of the monarch during the emergency.

He also accused the Prime Minister of deliberately lying to Parliament over the revocation of the ordinances.

Hadi Awang, 73
PAS President

Despite the tiff between Umno and Bersatu, the Islamist party is still committed to PN. The party in all likelihood will receive the lion's share of seats in its stronghold states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah to contest in the next general election.

But under Mr Hadi's reins, PAS risks loss of support as the repeal of emergency ordinances has led to restiveness among the party's grassroots.