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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's Muhyiddin on brink as key party ready to bolt coalition

Move comes hours after prime minister taps UMNO lawmaker as his deputy

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, right, and Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the prime minister's office. Muhyiddin appointed Ismail as his deputy in a calculated bid to dissuade the party from withdrawing support for his leadership.   © AP

SINGAPORE -- The largest party in Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's ruling coalition said early Thursday that it will withdraw support for the government and call for his resignation, local media report.

The United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, controls 36 of the 222 seats in the lower house of Malaysia's parliament. If the party acts on its decision, it would push Muhyiddin's government to the brink of collapse.

This marks the latest and perhaps biggest blow to Muhyiddin's government, which has faced pressure to reconvene parliament during the country's coronavirus emergency.

After former premier Mahathir Mohamad resigned abruptly in February last year, UMNO backed Muhyiddin as the successor and joined his coalition. But UMNO has since been increasingly at odds with Muhyiddin.

In March, UMNO decided that it will not work with Muhyiddin's Malaysian Indigenous Unity Party, or PPBM, in the next general election, but the leading party had remained in the coalition government. Muhyiddin has struggled to hold on to a majority in parliament.

Still, some UMNO members are critical of the party's current leadership. Political turmoil in Malaysia could deepen should some UMNO cabinet members choose to remain.

The move came hours after Muhyiddin on Wednesday unexpectedly announced the appointment of Defense Minister Ismail Sabri, a senior UMNO lawmaker, as deputy prime minister in what was seen as a bid to keep the party on his side.

The past few days have seen an intense tug of war between the sides. Muhyiddin agreed Monday to let parliament reconvene this month in response to pressure from UMNO. The legislature has been suspended under a state of emergency that was declared in January and is set to expire Aug. 1.

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