Everything you need to know about M'sia's political development in 90 seconds

Malaysia's political drama cheat sheet.

Faris Alfiq | August 18, 2021, 11:43 AM

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Malaysia's outgoing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, along with his cabinet members, resigned on Aug. 16.

There is extensive media coverage on his resignation and post-resignation plans, along with implications to the people of Malaysia.

Consider this as a cheat sheet on what you need to know on the latest Malaysian political crisis.

Why did Muhyiddin resign?

Muhyiddin has been under immense pressure to resign from his position as Malaysia's premier. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as he was perceived to have mishandled the health crisis.

With his resignation, Muhyiddin is officially the shortest serving prime minister of Malaysia after 17 months in power.

Muhyiddin's rise

In order to understand the reasons behind Muhyiddin's fall, we need to understand how Muhyiddin rose to power.

After the fall of Pakatan Harapan back in February 2020, Malaysia's former prime minister (twice) Mahathir Mohamad handed his resignation letter to Malaysia's king.

The Agong, or the king, accepted the letter and made Mahathir the interim prime minister.

This happened over a period of eight days while the king met with all members of parliament (MPs) to decide on an individual to lead the nation and form a government.

After a much careful consideration, Muhyiddin was named to be Malaysia's eighth Prime Minister by the king.

He formed a coalition government called Perikatan Nasional together with other political parties which include Bersatu, Barisan Nasional (including Umno) -- this will be important later -- Gabungan Parti Sarawak,  Parti Bersatu Sabah and Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku.

An important thing to note here: Muhyiddin's leadership was not chosen by the people during the elections. It was decided by the king based on who he thought could garner the support and confidence of the majority in parliament.

A game of numbers

Fast forward to 2021, Covid-19 hit Malaysia and the situation was dire. The king, at the advice of the prime minister, declared a state of emergency on Jan. 12.

During this period, all efforts and resources should be directed to stabilise the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

In March, the long-time prime minister hopeful Anwar Ibrahim claimed that he had a majority in parliament and that he was in talks with his rival faction, Umno, for a possible cooperation.

Since Malaysian politics now hinges on who has support from more than 110 MPs, which forms a simple majority, Anwar's claim can overthrow Muhyiddin as prime minister if proven to be true.

Umno, led by Zahid Hamidi, slightly after midnight on Jul. 8, claimed that the party withdrew its support for Perikatan Nasional. This meant that Muhyiddin's coalition no longer has the majority support of members in parliament.

Since Malaysia was in a state of emergency and parliament could not reconvene, these claims were rendered useless until a vote-of-confidence was done.

Revocation of Emergency Ordinance: The last straw

The situation became more chaotic when Malaysia's parliament reconvened on Jul. 26 for a special seating, with the de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan claiming that the emergency ordinance was revoked during a cabinet meeting without the approval of the palace.

MPs were riled up by his claim and pressured Muhyiddin to resign. They include Anwar Ibrahim, Zahid Hamidi, as well as former prime ministers Mahathir Mohamad and Najib Razak.

However, Muhyiddin still clung onto power, and eventually announced that a vote of confidence is to be held in parliament by September.

His power was waning as Umno pushed through and submitted a signed statutory declaration of its members leaving Perikatan Nasional.

On Aug. 13, Muhyiddin, in his final attempt to hold on to power, sought bipartisan support for his leadership and called for General Elections to beheld by July 2022, subjected to Malaysia's Covid-19 situation.

Two days later, on Aug. 15, Muhyiddin's party, Bersatu, announced that he will be meeting the king the next day to hand over his resignation letter.

At 3:00pm on Aug. 16, Muhyiddin announced on national television his resignation from his premiership.

What is a caretaker prime minister?

The king accepted his resignation letter and designated Muhyiddin himself to be a "caretaker" prime minister until a successor is chosen.

As caretaker prime minister, Muhyiddin still has the same power and authority as he had as prime minister, constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew said, as reported by Malay Mail.

“You are either prime minister or you are not, no in-between,” he said.

New added that as caretaker prime minister, it was necessary to ensure continuity of the day-to-day affairs of the government. This is especially so in the current political situation in Malaysia where there is no single MP with a clear majority to lead.

Another constitutional lawyer, Kee Hui Yee, also said that the term "caretaker prime minister" is something "informal".

She said that Muhyiddin's role is to maintain the status quo and keep the civil service running.

As Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, the king may not directly control the government and there is a need for a person to fill in the position.

Caretaker prime minister different from interim prime minister

According to International Islamic University Malaysia's legal adviser Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod, a caretaker prime minister is different from an interim prime minister.

Hence, Muhyiddin's current designation differs from Mahathir's designation when he resigned last year.

As a caretaker prime minister, Muhyiddin will be assisted by the chief secretary to the government and the civil service. However, he will not be able to make new policies or request for a small cabinet.

Even in such a case, constitutional legal experts agree that Muhyiddin's position as a caretaker prime minister will be short-lived.

Who will be the next prime minister?

With Muhyiddin's resignation, the race to Putrajaya begins.

The palace released a statement which said that in accordance with the Federal Constitution, the king will need to appoint a member from the lower house whom he believes has the trust of majority of the members of the house to lead the government as prime minister.

A day after Muhyiddin's resignation, the king summoned leaders of political parties from various factions and requested them to put aside their differences and pick a compromise candidate to lead a unity government with a "war time" cabinet.

Pakatan Harapan chief Anwar Ibrahim spoke to reporters afterwards, and said that the king has urged politicians to unite against Covid-19, and to forge "new politics".

He added that during the meeting, there was a consensus among political leaders to end "old politics".

The king had also requested members of the house to send in their choice of a new prime minister to the palace by 4pm on Aug. 18, via email, fax or WhatsApp, for him to decide on the next person to take the mantle of leadership.

However, there are some names who are considered to be as the front runners for Malaysia's next top political position, including former deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Anwar Ibrahim, veteran statesman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, and even former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. 

How will this affect the people?

As politicians battle for power, the people are battling for their lives.

Covid-19 still rages on with daily recorded cases remaining above 15,000, and the number of deaths averaging around 200 each day.

The Perikatan Nasional government was at the forefront in battling the pandemic, with its recovery plans and the national vaccination programme, where progress is being made.

However, with its fall, the road to recovery seems uncertain.

It is unclear whether Malaysia will still hold its general elections by July 2022, as mentioned by Muhyiddin previously.

After all, Malaysia is still a democracy, which means that the power in choosing the government should lie in the hands of its people.

What's next?

The only way forward for Malaysia is for the king, as well as party leaders, to find someone who can unite the different factions in Malaysia, even if it is a temporary solution.

The different political parties also need to get their heads in the game and think of the welfare of the people ahead of their power struggle and political agendas.

The ball is now in the king's court for him to decisively choose a leader that can lead the country out of this crisis.

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Top image adapted via @seefromthesky/Unsplash & Muhyiddin Yassin/Facebook