Malaysian government illegitimate, says Mahathir, after no-confidence vote blocked

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad: Not a fan of his successor.
PHOTO: Reuters

The former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday described the ruling government that ousted him in March as “illegitimate” after it blocked his effort to call a no-confidence vote.

The parliamentary speaker Ariff Md Yusof earlier in the day announced that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government had elected to permit only one order of business in next Monday’s parliamentary sitting – the ceremonial opening address by the king.

Ariff said the Perikatan Nasional government took the decision “as the Covid-19 pandemic has not been fully cleared”.

“How can this be called a government when MPs are not allowed to speak even when there is a parliamentary sitting?” Mahathir asked in a pre-recorded video released by his aides late on Wednesday.

“[As a result] this government is, in fact, illegitimate,” Mahathir said. “I think Muhyiddin is illegitimate.”

With the legislature sitting only for one day, the move effectively means Mahathir will not be able to go ahead with a plan to table a motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin, who took power in March and is a former ally of the 94-year-old.

The government’s move had been expected with observers saying it had planned to push back debates to July to delay the turmoil that would set in once parliament sits.

The law minister Takiyiddin Hassan last week said parliament would sit for at least 15 days in July.

The king made Muhyiddin prime minister after the politician triggered a power vacuum by pulling the party he and Mahathir co-founded out of the Pakatan Harapan alliance that won the May 2018 election.

The new Perikatan Nasional, which has teamed up with Pakatan Harapan arch-rivals, the United Malays National Organisation, has thus not proven it has the support of a simple majority of the country’s 222-seat legislature, as the house has been in recess since December.

A March sitting was delayed on account of the pandemic and the sitting next week is compulsory as the constitution stipulates that the legislature stands to be dissolved if it does not convene at least once in six months.

While Muhyiddin was handed power by the constitutional monarch Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah on the premise that the politician had a majority, Mahathir in his video questioned whether Muhyiddin actually had such backing when he was sworn in on March 1.

He has previously suggested Muhyiddin was only now gaining the required support from backbencher MPs after offering them jobs in government-linked agencies and other state-backed institutions.

The country’s partial lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has been in place since March 18, was slated to end this week but has now been extended to June 9.

In the state of Kedah, where Mahathir’s son Mukhriz Mahathir is the chief minister, the state administration is on tenterhooks after two assemblymen crossed aisles to back Muhyiddin’s allies.

Mukhriz, a businessman-turned-politician at one point viewed as a possible successor to his illustrious father, has said he will not step down until his administration is defeated in a no-confidence motion in the state legislature.

Also on Wednesday, a leaked audio clip circulating widely online offered more details on the so-called Sheraton Move – named after a hotel where meetings took place – that unseated Mahathir.

In the audio clip, a man whose voice resembled Muhyiddin is heard telling members of the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia party that the final decision on whether to pull the party out of Pakatan Harapan was up to Mahathir.

The prime minister’s office has not commented on the audio clip.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.