By Rozanna Latiff
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s biggest political party and key ally in the ruling coalition withdrew support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin late on Wednesday and called on him to resign for failing to manage the country’s COVID-19 crisis.
The decision by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to pull support came just hours after Muhyiddin appointed a senior UMNO member as deputy prime minister, seen as a bid to ease months of infighting.
Some UMNO lawmakers have been unhappy playing second fiddle to the premier’s own party.
But the country’s attorney-general said the withdrawal will not affect the position of Muhyiddin or his cabinet, as the question of his house majority can only be determined by parliament, not by pronouncements by political party leaders.
“For now, the government does not have any clear facts to show that the prime minister no longer holds the confidence of the majority of members of parliament,” attorney-general Idrus Harun said in a statement.
Parliament is scheduled to hold a five-day special meeting from July 26, its first meeting this year after it was suspended in January when a national emergency was declared to deal with the coronavirus.
UMNO ministers in government, who hold key portfolios such as health, defence and foreign affairs, have so far not said they would quit.
Muhyiddin’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the withdrawal of support for Muhyiddin was due to a failure to manage the coronavirus problem effectively, to ensure political and economic stability, and win the public trust.
Muhyiddin should make way for an interim premier, who would focus on the pandemic, Zahid said.
Zahid also called for elections after herd immunity was achieved from mass vaccinations.
Elections are not due until 2023, but Muhyiddin earlier this year said he would hold polls when safe to do so.
Muhyiddin has a slim two-seat parliamentary majority, with UMNO comprising 37 of its 113 lawmakers. The premier’s party, Bersatu, holds 31.
Malaysia has been under tight lockdown measures since June as coronavirus infections rise sharply. It passed the 800,000 mark in cases on Thursday, the third highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and the Philippines.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Michael Perry, Lincoln Feast, Martin Petty)