To de-escalate the current political crisis, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced yesterday that he would seek a confidence vote next month when parliament resumes session. According to the prime minister, the monarch has given his assent. Yassin did not announce a specific date, but legislators are scheduled to sit from 6-30 September. If his plan holds, opaque horse-trading and internal maneuvering are likely to dominate Malaysian politics for the next few weeks, and the key outcomes of whether Yassin can hold on or not to his position or who his possible successor would be remain uncertain. The opposition continues to lobby for an immediate parliamentary session but the continued rise of daily new case numbers — a record 20,596 new cases were reported Thursday — could cause them to be cautious in pushing too hard.
On paper, Yassin has already lost control. Before the crisis, the best-case estimate for the PM was that he had a 115-105 majority in the 222-seat lower house (2 seats are vacant), if all 38 members of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) are counted for him. Other UMNO members have said he only has 113 legislators on his side. On Tuesday, 3 August, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in an online press conference attended by ten other UMNO MPs that enough MPs had submitted statutory declarations of their withdrawal of support. But, again, even if the 11 MPs at the press conference were the only ones leaving the National Alliance (PN), this would still leave Yassin with only 104 seats.
Tactically, Yassin will likely use the next few weeks to consolidate support from his remaining allies in UMNO. He may be banking on the party not wanting to openly fracture due to this controversy, which could, in turn, generate pressure on Ahmad Zahid not to agree with a no-confidence vote if UMNO remains internally divided even by September.
And even assuming that Yassin is removed, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s ascent to the prime ministership, considered to be the popular outcome, is similarly unassured. There have been reports that a political compromise may be brokered within PN, with the PM position going to UMNO vice-president and deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob or to another senior UMNO official, with the deputy PM position going to Yassin’s Bersatu party. After all, Zahid only said that UMNO was withdrawing its support for Yassin, not that it was leaving PN. UMNO may propose this as an interim solution. However, it raises the question of whether Anwar’s Alliance of Hope (PH) would also push for a no-confidence vote if it were to only result in a game of musical chairs for PN.