KUALA LUMPUR, Aug.4 (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin defied growing pressure to step down on Wednesday, saying he retained the support of the majority of lawmakers and would prove it when the nation’s parliament drew Southeast Asia will meet next month.
Speaking in a televised address, Muhyiddin said King Al-Sultan Abdullah had agreed he should stay in power pending the vote of confidence, even though some members of his coalition withdrew their support.
Muhyiddin’s grip on power has been precarious since he became Prime Minister in March last year, but the influential monarch has so far helped him survive in order to avoid political chaos as Malaysia was battling the surge in COVID-19 infections and an economic downturn due to several lockdowns.
Pressures on him to resign flared again last week, however, after the king issued a rare reprimand for a government decision to revoke emergency laws without his approval, an act which the palace said went against the constitution. Read more
The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the largest bloc in Muhyiddin’s ruling alliance, said Muhyiddin lost his legitimacy after the reprimand and some of his lawmakers wrote to the king to withdraw their support.
In a provocative speech on national television, Muhyiddin – surrounded by nine lawmakers, including Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO politician Ismail Sabri Yaakob – said there was no question of him resigning.
“I informed the King that I have received a number of statements from lawmakers which have convinced me that I still have the confidence of the majority of lawmakers at this time,” Muhyiddin said.
“However, I am aware that my position as Prime Minister continues to be questioned. Therefore, I have informed the King that I will determine my legitimacy as Prime Minister in Parliament,” he said.
The UMNO party is divided over its support for Muhyiddin, who has ruled with a very slim majority and led an unstable ruling coalition since coming to power in March 2020.
The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (.KLSE), which had fallen earlier due to political uncertainty, recovered some losses after Muhyiddin’s speech.
Muhyiddin said the political unrest was sparked by “certain parties” whose demands he refused to respond to, including the release of individuals accused of corruption.
“This includes the pressure for me to interfere in court cases to release a few people who are being prosecuted for criminal offenses,” Muhyiddin said, without naming them.
UMNO did not immediately comment.
Several UMNO politicians face corruption charges, including former Prime Minister Najib Razak and party chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Najib was convicted last year and sentenced to 12 years in prison in a case related to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal. He denied the wrongdoing and appealed the decision.
Ahmad Zahid is also in the middle of a transplant trial.
The two were among those who withdrew their support for Muhyiddin this week.
Last year Muhyiddin was chosen by the king to form a government with the UMNO and other parties that were defeated in the 2018 elections. But he was constantly challenged by some UMNO lawmakers.
Multi-ethnic Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the role of the king is divided among the nine sultans – the traditional Malaysian rulers.
Written by A. Ananthalakshmi Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore
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