Muhyiddin sends support letters to King as Anwar seeks out Zahid in race to be Malaysia’s next PM

Malaysian King extends the deadline for submission of names of prime minister candidates to 2pm on Tuesday.

Nadirah Rodzi and Shannon Teoh

Nadirah Rodzi and Shannon Teoh

The Straits Times


Pakatan Harapan chief Anwar Ibrahim (left) has the slight edge, with 82 MPs compared with former premier Muhyiddin Yassin’s 79. PHOTOS: REUTERS, ZAIHAN YUSOF

November 21, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR – Perikatan Nasional (PN) claimed on Monday that it had sent statutory declarations from a majority of MPs supporting its chief Muhyiddin Yassin as their choice for Malaysia’s 10th prime minister, ahead of the palace’s original 2pm deadline on the same day.

“The number of statutory declarations sent exceeds 112, which is the number of MPs needed to appoint a prime minister,” said PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin.

The deadline for submission of names of prime minister candidates has been extended to 2pm on Tuesday by the King. This followed a request by PN rival Barisan Nasional (BN), whose leaders were locked in talks with Pakatan Harapan (PH) on Monday morning over whether to back PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim for the premiership.

The meeting between Datuk Seri Anwar and his BN counterpart Zahid Hamidi ended without an agreement on forming the next government, with Zahid saying his alliance’s supreme council has not decided who to back.

”Any decision will be made only after a negotiating committee has met with any parties that want to form government and after the BN supreme council has decided officially after feedback from the negotiations,” said Zahid, Umno’s president.

The meeting at Seri Pacific Hotel in Kuala Lumpur came after Saturday’s general election threw up the nation’s first-ever hung Parliament, with both Mr Anwar and Tan Sri Muhyiddin staking their claim to becoming prime minister.

PH took home 82 parliamentary seats, including one from the allied Muda, and PN won 73, while BN took a dismal 30 seats. Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, which won six seats in the eastern state, has said it will support PN.

Zahid stated that BN had not made any decision to form a government with PN. “Any claims by parties or coalitions that BN has joined them to form the government are all untrue,” he said.

Other party leaders who arrived at the hotel on Monday morning for the meeting included Mr Mohamad Sabu, president of PH component Parti Amanah Negara, and Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, who leads BN party Malaysian Chinese Association.

PH’s largest component, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), agreed on Sunday night to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar’s move to rope in the Umno-led BN, sources told The Straits Times.

While a decision is still pending on their collaboration at the federal level, PH and BN have agreed to form state governments in Perak and Pahang, where legislative assemblies were also hung after Saturday’s election.

“Perak PH will form a new state government with BN and, God willing, will be a stable administration,” said Parti Amanah Negara state chief Asmuni Awi.

The move by Mr Anwar to team up with BN – especially at the federal level – is controversial as PH has long made anti-corruption a core principle of its political agenda, while Umno members are perceived to be riddled with graft, not least of them Zahid, who is on trial for dozens of graft charges.

In 2018, Umno lost power for the first time in six decades on the back of public ire over the 1MDB scandal, in which billions of dollars in public funds were stolen.

“Zahid won’t be given government positions and there will be no interference in his court case. It is a rough, tough decision but we have to recognise the bigger enemy. PAS cannot be allowed in government,” a member of DAP’s leadership council told ST, referring to Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

PAS, a member of PN, emerged as the largest party in Parliament with 44 MPs after Saturday’s election. It has long espoused Islamist views that critics say infringe on personal freedoms.

Mr Anwar, asked by reporters on Monday if he had enough MPs backing him, merely responded that BN will make a collective decision and that the statutory declarations from BN lawmakers whom PN claimed supported it were cancelled.

He also insisted that “there was no reference” to Zahid’s graft charges during negotiations. “I want to make it very clear that this was not raised at all during formal or informal meetings,” he added.

PH chief secretary Saifuddin Nasution also alleged that PN counterpart Hamzah’s claim of obtaining a simple majority was “premature, impossible and inconclusive”, as BN MPs had yet to commit to any prime minister candidate.

Both Mr Anwar and Mr Muhyiddin, with 82 and 79 MPs respectively, need support from BN parliamentarians to obtain a simple majority in the 222-seat legislature.

But ST has learnt that as at Sunday evening, Umno was deeply divided, with some leaders calling on Zahid, who wants to commit BN’s 30 MPs to support PH, to resign.

About 20 Umno MPs were said to support PN, and some prominent figures in Umno believed the party should stay in the opposition, having suffered its worst-ever defeat.

However, Zahid insisted that any written pledge of support for any prime ministerial candidate prior to a decision by the Supreme Council would be invalid as it violates an oath undertaken by BN candidates to abide by the coalition’s collective decision.

In an immediate response, caretaker Senior Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, said to be leading the pro-PN group, insisted he would not work with Mr Anwar and DAP.

“No Anwar, No DAP. Those who feel they can sack me for holding to this stance, go ahead,” the former Umno vice-president said, referring to a resolution by the party’s general assembly last year.

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