Malaysian leader seeks opposition backing to stay in power

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin acknowledged Friday he may have lost majority support in Parliament but said he will seek the backing of opposition parties to keep his government from collapsing and promised to hold elections next year.

Muhyiddin has pledged to test support for his leadership when Parliament resumes next month, but has been under increasing pressure after some governing coalition lawmakers withdrew their backing.

Muhyiddin said he could take the easy way out and resign but that no other lawmaker currently has the necessary support of a majority to be appointed by the king as the new leader. In such a case, he said, there would be no government and this would throw the country into limbo during a worsening pandemic.

Muhyiddin said he will meet opposition leaders to obtain their support in exchange for a raft of benefits, including proposals to limit the prime minister’s tenure, lower the voting age from 21 to 18, bolster checks and balances, and offer the opposition leader perks similar to a senior minister. He said he would also increase the budget to fight the coronavirus and give more cash aid to the poor.

“The purpose of my proposal is to enable the government to continue to function amid this epidemic with bipartisan support in Parliament,” he said in a televised speech.

“I do not intend to continue to cling onto power. In this situation, it is right that the mandate be returned to the people to elect a new government when the time is right. Depending on the pandemic situation, I give a commitment that the 15th general election will be held no later than the end of July next year,” he said.

Muhyiddin’s announcement marked a U-turn just a week after he told Malaysians he believes he still has majority support and would call for a vote of confidence in Parliament in September.

At least eight lawmakers from the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in the ruling alliance, have signed declarations withdrawing their support for the government, which is enough to cause its collapse because of its razor-thin majority. Two UMNO ministers have resigned from the Cabinet.

Under Malaysia’s Constitution, the prime minister must resign if he loses majority support and the king can appoint a new leader who he believes has the confidence of Parliament. But the opposition and UMNO are split and unable to agree on who should become leader.

A three-party alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim, which is the biggest opposition bloc, said Muhyiddin has now openly admitted that he has lost majority support and must resign.

The bloc slammed Muhyiddin for “offering blatant corruption on live television” and making insincere offers to save his political career. They accused him of twisting the constitution and undermining the king’s role in appointing the prime minister.

The bloc, which earlier urged all Muhyiddin opponents to back Anwar as prime minister, said it was confident it can “offer a better plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, revive the economy and save the people.”

Four smaller opposition parties also rejected Muhyiddin’s offer and repeated calls for him to quit and “allow the democratic process to resume.” They said all Muhyiddin’s proposals can be brought to Parliament by a new leader.

Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. His party joined hands with UMNO and several others to form a new government that is unstable. UMNO has been unhappy with playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s smaller party.

He had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval since January after suspending Parliament under a state of emergency declared to battle the coronavirus. Critics say he used the emergency, which expired Aug. 1, to avoid a vote in Parliament that would show he had lost a majority of support.

Public anger with his government has mounted after a lockdown imposed in June failed to contain the virus, with daily cases soaring above 20,000 this month. Malaysia reported 21,468 new cases on Friday, bringing its confirmed total to 1.36 million. Deaths have soared to near 12,000.

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