Politics and Policy: Showdown at Parliament Hill

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 11, 2020 - May 17, 2020.

Does Mahathir have one last rabbit to pull out of the hat?

Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge

Muhyiddin publicly admits his government wasn’t voted into office

Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge

-A +A

NOW that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s bid to table a vote of no confidence against the prime minister has been allowed, the big question is, will this pave the way for the 95-year-old leader to be prime minister for the third time?

But that is pre-empting the parliamentary process and assuming that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will not survive the no-confidence vote. As the sitting prime minister, he has powerful tools at his disposal to remain in power, no matter what the odds against him are.

Among supporters of Pakatan Harapan (PH), there is already much speculation over whether Mahathir will be prime minister again or if Port Dickson MP Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will finally clinch the crown.

Says a political observer, “People want to see if Mahathir still has one last rabbit to pull out of the hat. He is king in the reading of Malay politics and will be counting on that skill once again”.

Research outfit Ilham Centre’s Azlan Zainal says since the no-confidence motion is initiated by Mahathir, it is not rocket science that PH parties will first have to come to a consensus as to who would would lead them should the motion be successful and PH returns to power.

Mahathir and the faction of Bersatu that supports him are aligned to PH, although the party is no longer part of the coalition following February’s political coup. He is accepted by the coalition but the dramatic way in which the PH government collapsed is still a sore point.

The crisis erupted when over 30 Bersatu and PKR Members of Parliament, led by Muhyiddin and the then PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, left the PH government and joined hands with Umno, PAS and other political blocs in the so-called Sheraton Move.

Mahathir resigned as prime minister rather than work with leaders from the previous administration, bringing down the PH government and triggering a political crisis as a scramble to form a new government ensued.

Hence, Azlan notes the need for PH to reach a compromise and consensus to move forward.

It has been reported that PH has picked Anwar as its parliamentary opposition leader and according to the PKR president, the PH presidential council “has informed the speaker and other opposition members in Parliament, including the Bersatu MPs who are aligned to us”.

Explaining the procedures for the tabling of the no-confidence motion, constitutional expert Dr Aziz Bari says that if 112 MPs support the motion, Muhyiddin will have to resign. The MPs would then have to decide who they want as prime minister. Or if they have already decided, then they can bring the name to Parliament when the motion is tabled.

“Usually, the name of the preferred leader is already decided before the motion is tabled. For an MP to support it, he or she must know who the leader is that coming in to replace the one they are voting out,” says Aziz.

To political analyst Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, the no-confidence vote is “preferable as it dispenses with constitutional ambiguities”.

However, taking into account that Mahathir is Bersatu chairman, observers are asking if Bersatu will take action against him for pushing a no-confidence vote against the president of his own party. Bersatu is in a unique position as it is in both the government and the opposition.

Nevertheless, any action against Mahathir by Bersatu will not jeopardise his position as MP nor affect the tabling of the motion.

The events of the past week have been quite shocking. Before the no-confidence motion was made known, Semporna MP Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal attempted to table a motion of confidence in Mahathir, who is MP for Langkawi, in order to demonstrate that the former prime minister still commanded majority support in the Dewan Rakyat.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof rejected the plan, saying the motion was against the Federal Constitution and therefore could not be allowed to be brought to the meeting.

Had the Speaker not rejected Shafie’s bid, then something unprecedented would have occurred. Parliament will convene May 18 for the first time this year after being postponed from the original date of March 9. However, the government has decided that the May 18 sitting will only be for a day because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The normal practice is for an opposition member to table a vote of no confidence against a sitting prime minister. A vote of confidence is usually carried out by the government of the day to show that the prime minister has the support of the majority in the House.

But in Shafei’s case, he had sought to table a motion for a vote of confidence in a former prime minister. According to a political observer, this throws up more questions than answers — an interesting situation that has now been rendered academic following the Speaker’s ruling.

Interestingly, Mahathir’s letter to the Speaker seeking to table the motion that Muhiyddin, who is Pagoh MP, does not command the majority of the Lower House, was dated May 4.

Shafei’s letter to the Speaker seeking to table his confidence vote was dated May 1. This prompted the political observer to ask why Shafei did not go straight for the no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin as his plan to ask Parliament to vote on a former prime minister was going to be tricky. Mahathir’s move, on the other hand, is more direct. Another observer asked if it was a two-pronged attack on the prime minister.

“The present government, as Muhyiddin himself publicly admitted, is not one that was voted into office. In such circumstances, it is not unusual for PH, which won the last election, and by extension, its ally Warisan, to attempt to mount some sort of confidence motion at the very first available parliamentary sitting to gauge majority support for either side of the political divide,” says political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun, who is from Sabah.

Following February’s political coup, Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister, heading the Perikatan Nasional administration, despite Mahathir’s camp insisting it was their man who had the numbers.

Now that Mahathir’s bid has been allowed to be brought to Parliament, Muhyiddin will be tested.

There are theories aplenty and speculation on how the motion of no confidence will go. Naturally, all parties are working hard to ensure that things go their way. The political stage is set to come alive again.


Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.

P/S: The Edge is also available on Apple's AppStore and Androids' Google Play.