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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's embattled Muhyiddin buys time, vows confidence vote

Resisting calls to quit, PM says king will let him test majority in September

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, pictured in a file photo, continues to fend off attempts to force his resignation.   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday fought off attempts to force his resignation, likely buying at least a month to demonstrate he still controls a majority in the lower house of parliament.

The premier appeared to have lost what was thought to be a two-seat advantage Tuesday night, when around 10 lawmakers from the largest ruling coalition party -- the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) -- formally withdrew their support. Yet Muhyiddin told a live telecast on Wednesday that he will face a confidence motion in parliament after it reopens next month.

"Through that, my position as the prime minister and the National Alliance as the ruling party would be determined based on rule of law and the constitution," he said, flanked by several federal ministers.

Muhyiddin was granted an audience with King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin earlier on Wednesday. "I was told by the king that eight members of parliament have sent letters to withdraw their support for me and the National Alliance government," he said, giving a slightly lower number than UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had presented the night before.

Nevertheless, Muhyiddin insisted he still has the backing he needs. "I informed the king that I have received statutory declarations from lower house members which convince me that I have the confidence of the majority currently," he said. "Thus, my resignation under Article 43(4) of the federal constitution will not arise."

According to the prime minister, the monarch agreed to his proposal to test his control in parliament. The king is scheduled to reopen the legislature on Sept. 6 for a sitting that would run through Sept. 30. The confidence vote could be held at any time during that stretch.

This week's jousting comes after an abbreviated parliament session last week. The government suspended what was supposed to be a five-day session after the fourth day, citing a coronavirus scare in the complex. Muhyiddin's opponents suspected the decision was really about dodging political pressure, especially after a rebuke from the palace over the government's handling of a state of emergency.

But Muhyiddin on Wednesday accused his detractors of intentionally destabilizing the government during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Daily infections have risen to a range of 15,000 to 17,000, severely straining the health system.

The prime minister hinted that his foes are determined to oust him because of ongoing legal proceedings against them.

"I know they are not happy about my stance of refusing to entertain some of their demands, which include insisting that I interfere in judiciary affairs to release some of the individuals currently under criminal trials," he said.

Muhyiddin did not name names, but he was likely referring to Ahmad Zahid and former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who are facing separate criminal charges for alleged corruption and power abuse. Najib was already convicted on seven counts last year, pending appeal.

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