KUALA LUMPUR – Umno chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisted on Friday (July 9) the party’s decision to withdraw support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was not a power grab, but a move to address the government’s mishandling of Malaysia’s Covid-19 pandemic that has continued to set record highs despite a nationwide lockdown.
The former deputy premier pointed out that total cases “are nearing a million and the utilisation of ICU (intensive care unit) beds have nearly hit full capacity”. He said: “The result is a declining economy. Many have lost their source of income.
“Yet, the pandemic continues to surge. More lives are lost. There is not even a hint it will ease. Does Umno not know of this? Umno understands all this,” he said in a Facebook post. “Umno knows the people cannot bear it anymore. The nation must recover immediately.”
Umno, which has 38 MPs, is the largest party in Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s ruling pact Perikatan Nasional (PN) and is represented by 17 ministers and deputy ministers in his administration.
Umno’s announcement on Thursday urging Mr Muhyiddin to resign over alleged failures of his government has come under growing criticism, even from its allies in the once dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Both the Malaysian Chinese Association and Malaysian Indian Congress have said they would maintain their support for the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Umno itself appears split, with senior lawmakers continuing to claim that the lion’s share of the party’s MPs remain steadfast to the PN administration, so that they can focus on tackling the country’s deadliest coronavirus wave.
Zahid, who is facing dozens of graft charges brought after the party lost the 2018 election, acknowledged that “Umno has been accused of playing politics… speaking like the opposition and acting on the president’s personal agenda”.
“It is completely untrue that Umno’s decision yesterday was due to a thirst for power. If that were so, it would be better to cling on to power now. Umno cannot be the ‘pak sanggup’ (enabler) for the PN government’s failures,” he added.
Zahid’s ally Najib Razak, the former premier who is appealing a graft conviction in the 1MDB scandal, also alleged on Friday “the PN government’s handling of Covid-19 has gotten worse with various mistakes being repeated even though it is obvious these huge errors will block an election… it is as if these mistakes were done on purpose”.
But the Muhyiddin administration continued to operate as normal on Friday, despite continued uncertainty over its legitimacy.
Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob clocked into the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office having been promoted by Mr Muhyiddin on Wednesday.
Mr Muhyiddin had on the same day promoted another Umno veteran, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, to senior minister for foreign affairs and assigned him Datuk Seri Ismail’s former security cluster portfolio, which focuses on the pandemic.
The promotions were widely seen as undermining Zahid’s faction in Umno, as the two elevated ministers are part of a rival faction in Umno comprising lawmakers who want to stay in government until fresh polls can be held. The “remain” camp claims their numbers range from 30 to 32 MPs.
Nevertheless, Mr Muhyiddin’s detractors say Umno’s withdrawal of support could still leave him shy of a parliamentary majority.
The reopening of the Lower House on July 26 could test this, but critics have pointed out how the stated agenda leaves out significant debates on the government’s Covid-19 response and the state of emergency that expires on Aug 1.
The five-day sitting is set to see a briefing on the National Recovery Plan for lawmakers, as well as amendments to allow for hybrid meetings in the future, while emergency ordinances will only be “laid before the house”, meaning they will be tabled for elected representatives to study before debate at a yet to be specified date.