The largest party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition threatened to pull out unless it gets better terms, adding pressure on PM Muhyiddin Yassin to shore up his unstable government or call a snap election.
The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which holds about a third of the seats in Muhyiddin’s 12-party government, said in a statement that it would enter talks with him to stay in the bloc. It also suggested formalising an alliance with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which would unify the largest Malay-Muslim political organisations.
Separately, Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama cited a top party official saying that UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is scheduled to have an audience with the king at 5 pm on Thursday. The agency later cited Zahid saying the meeting has been deferred and a a new date has not been set.
The moves add another twist to Malaysia’s political drama, which has seen various factions jockey for power after former PM Mahathir Mohamad abruptly resigned in February. Muhyiddin emerged in March as the head of an unwieldy bloc with a majority of only a few votes, prompting constant speculation about the potential collapse of the government.
UMNO, which has only been in the opposition for about two years since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, has emerged as a key power broker in the latest negotiations. Some of its members had threatened to join a new coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, who claimed to present a “convincing majority” of more than 120 lawmakers in a meeting with the king.
Yet the monarch remained unconvinced, saying in a statement that Anwar didn’t submit the names of lawmakers to back up his claim. He advised Anwar “to abide by and respect such legal processes enshrined in the Federal Constitution” before stressing the need for unity to fight the coronavirus.
Investors are focusing more on the surge in virus cases that threaten a rebound in economic activity than on the political situation, according to Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Singapore. Malaysia’s economy shrank 17.1% in the second quarter when the government imposed a national lockdown.