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Following the 16 June statement from the king for parliament to reconvene “as soon as possible,” the pressure on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to recall MPs for a parliamentary sitting continues to increase. Yassin has proposed September or October for their return, after the lifting on 1 August of the state of emergency, but a July or August timeframe is possible.

The pressure is coming from two fronts. On Monday, 21 June, the president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said that failure to carry out the king’s request would be considered disloyal and disrespectful. He said a sitting should be held within the next two weeks. UMNO provides one third of the seats for the current majority.

Furthermore, nine of the country’s 13 state-level assemblies are now reportedly making plans to return in July or August, including those in states controlled by parties of the ruling National Alliance (PN) coalition. The rest are waiting for approval from their respective monarchs or governors. These would reduce the credibility of the argument from the PM that the current health emergency justifies the continued suspension of parliament. Thus, the pressure could increase further once state assemblies start meeting. Malaysia’s current wave, the worst since the pandemic started, peaked at around 9,000 at the end of May. However, new daily case numbers have dropped in half and the vaccination rate is rapidly expanding.

The difference between a July/August sitting and one in September/October is the optics. An early return would reinforce perceptions that Yassin is weakening and that elections could take place as soon as broader public health conditions allow, maybe by the fourth quarter. On the other hand, an unclear timetable that allows for a September or October parliamentary reopening could push the window for an election further out to the first half of next year. This would give Yassin more time to maneuver and claim credit for the improvement in the country’s vaccination campaign, which is expected to pick up in the second half of 2021. Nonetheless, in either case, the expectation that is building in Malaysia is that early elections are more a question of when, not if.

Less clear is how the political landscape could shift ahead of the elections. No single party has close to a majority, and UMNO holds the apparent swing vote between the current ruling coalition and the opposition Alliance of Hope (PH). But even for UMNO, there is no guarantee that flipping over to the opposition will yield a better outcome compared to striking a deal with Yassin. Inter-party politics is riven with complications: PH’s component Democratic Action Party strongly distrusts UMNO; opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim would face substantial criticism for potentially working with former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is emerging as one of the prime architects in UMNO’s efforts to undermine Yassin. Meanwhile, UMNO’s grassroots reportedly want a new leader, which could weaken Yassin’s opponents, Hamidi and Razak, in their efforts to push UMNO to a different coalition.

Given this uncertainty, there is no foregone conclusion in the battle for control, which is only just beginning.

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MALAYSIA: Pressure is building on the PM

Following the 16 June statement from the king for parliament to reconvene “as soon as possible,” the pressure on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to