Umno's fault lines more apparent following its move against Muhyiddin, academics say

A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur August 4, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur August 4, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — Umno's attempt to force out Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has exposed the party's frailties more than its strengths, academics have said.

According to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Prof Azmi Hassan, this was patent when the party could only get 11 of its MPs to publicly withdraw support for Perikatan Nasional (PN) despite its official decision to reject the coalition.

“One quarter support the president (Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) and the other three quarters, we're not not sure where they stand (yet), whether with the government or if they are with the party,” he said.

However, Azmi said this could change before Muhyiddin’s proposed confidence vote in September, and that the MPs might still shift positions based on their constituents’ views.

“But I doubt the MPs will listen to their constituents. They will either listen to the party or they have their own agenda in this case,” he said.

Azmi added that Zahid’s inability to present the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with a credible alternative to Muhyiddin also reflected poorly on the party’s ambition to regain power.

While he believed recent events meant Muhyiddin’s claim to still possess majority support was disputable, Azmi said Umno was in part responsible for the current impasse.

“When Zahid said he met the King, the opportunity should have been used to submit to the King the Opposition's choice of a PM-designate to replace Muhyiddin.

“But, alas, it did not happen. (It was) a lost opportunity for Umno to take control. If Zahid can put forward a name I don't think the split as of now would occur,” Azmi said.

Azmi said the turmoil within Umno could have further ramifications in the next general election as it appeared that the party could no longer control all of its MPs.

According to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, Umno was not the political force it once was.

Not only was Umno not able to trigger an exodus of support among PN parties, he said it could not even get all of its MPs to do so.

“This loss of stature most likely could extend nationwide, though not to the extent of dislodging entirely Malay support from the party.

“It goes to show just how little Umno could do in shaping the political scene without governmental power,” he said.

Independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng said Umno could not stand being in the Opposition bench, which was why some of its MPs remain in support of Muhyiddin.

“It (Umno) will be a diminished power in the next general election,” said Khoo when contacted.

Umno renewed the country’s political crisis when Zahid announced that his party was officially withdrawing support for PN immediately, rather than at the next general election.

Despite Zahid’s announcement, which was based on a resolution passed during the last Umno general assembly, not all of the party’s federal lawmakers have openly expressed their positions.

The senior Umno leaders in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet have also not relinquished their positions, with only Datuk Seri Shamsul Anuar Nasarah resigning as the energy and natural resources minister earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Muhyiddin announced that a confidence vote will be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat when it convenes in September, while insisting that he still has the required majority support from lawmakers in the form of statutory declarations (SD) to lead Malaysia.

Muhyiddin said he was informed by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah that His Majesty has obtained SDs from eight Umno MPs who formally informed the Dewan Rakyat Speaker they were withdrawing support for him.

During the address, Muhyiddin was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob from Umno, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and ministers Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man from PAS and Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong from MCA.

Muhyiddin said His Majesty cited Article 43(2)(a) and Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution in the official letter to him following the withdrawal of support from eight Umno MPs.

Both provisions concerned the requirement of the PM to resign if he no longer had majority support and for the King to appoint an MP as prime minister who he believed commanded majority support in the Lower House of Parliament.

Khoo said the decision to only call for a confidence vote in September rather than immediately was clearly to secure more time to shore up support.

Ahmad Fauzi said PN would likely attempt in the next month to reconcile with the Palace and ameliorate its damaged reputation among Malay voters.

“The one month is a temporary respite enabling PN to woo enough support to defeat any vote of no confidence come September.”

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