By Mei Mei Chu
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday promised political reforms and urged opposition lawmakers to back him in an upcoming confidence vote, in a bid to shore up his government and prevent an election amid a COVID-19 resurgence.
Malaysia is in political turmoil after some lawmakers in the ruling alliance withdrew support for Muhyiddin. He last week defied calls to quit and said he would prove his majority in parliament through a confidence vote https://reut.rs/3yW10KE.
But on Friday, Muhyiddin admitted for the first time he did not have a majority and said the vote cannot be passed without bipartisan support.
No other lawmaker can command a majority either, he said.
“We have reached a consensus to consult with the leaders of parties outside (the ruling bloc) to approve the confidence motion,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.
“This will enable the current government to continue managing the pandemic until it is time for elections to be held.”
The polls will be held by July 2022 depending on the state of the pandemic, he said.
Malaysia’s government has been in a state of flux since Muhyiddin came to power in March 2020 with a slim majority. Pressure on him mounted in recent weeks after some lawmakers from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party – the largest bloc in the ruling alliance – withdrew support.
That came as Malaysia grapples with a COVID-19 resurgence, with record daily infections and deaths in recent days, among more than 1.3 million cases.
Movement restrictions have been in place since May, impeding economic growth. The central bank slashed its 2021 growth outlook earlier on Friday and said political stability was needed for policy certainty.
REFORMS IN RETURN FOR VOTE
Muhyiddin promised political and electoral reforms, and increased funds for opposition lawmakers to spend on their constituencies if they supported him.
He said he would amend the constitution to limit a prime minister’s term to two five-year terms, introduce an anti-hopping law to prevent defections and ensure the minimum voting age was lowered immediately from 21 to 18.
The proposals, he said, were also designed to prevent “kleptocratic” rule if his government fell.
He has blamed political turmoil on “certain parties” whose demands he refused to meet, including freeing individuals facing corruption charges.
Several UMNO politicians face graft charges, including former premier Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
They have denied wrongdoing and were among those who withdrew support for Muhyiddin this month.
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Martin Petty)