All eyes on Istana Negara after rumour of Muhyiddin’s resignation triggers day of cloak-and-dagger meets

A general view of Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur August 16, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A general view of Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur August 16, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

COMMENTARY, Aug 16 — The nation’s attention will rest squarely on Istana Negara today, where Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin could be attending his final royal audience as the prime minister of Malaysia.

Muhyiddin is expected to meet with Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and tender his resignation, finally conceding that he no longer commanded the simple majority in Parliament needed to remain in his role.

Unlike predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin has yet to formally announce his intention to resign, with the only reliable information coming from senior Parti Bersatu Malaysia leaders who told the press that he conveyed this to party leaders during a meeting yesterday.

Muhyiddin’s support level in Parliament had already been in doubt since August 3, when Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi followed through with the threat to pull his party’s support from the Perikatan Nasional government.

While Zahid could not get all of Umno’s lawmakers to reject Muhyiddin, enough did so to make the latter’s insistence to still possess his razor-thin majority a mathematical impossibility.

However, Muhyiddin’s decision to resign was sudden, barely days after he attempted to extend an olive branch to the Opposition in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the reality of the confidence vote he had promised to call in September.

His decision set off a proverbial bomb among Malaysia’s political parties, sending aspirants and their supporters scrambling to secure the support needed to install the leader of their choice as Muhyiddin’s successor.

All of yesterday, the press attempted to trail and speak to politicians such as Umno’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob — one of those tipped to take over from Muhyiddin — as they entered secretive meetings far from prying eyes to engage in negotiations.

As reporters hounded them from one location to another, all that most managed was a glimpse of the dark-tinted Toyota Alphards — the quasi-official chariot of choice among Malaysia’s political elite — that kept their occupants hidden from view.

This also left reporters at the mercy of anonymous “sources” who drip-fed their version of events, denying one set no sooner than another had been confirmed.

One such rumour was of a high-powered Opposition meeting involving Pakatan Harapan chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and former prime minister Dr Mahathir, the mentor-mentee turned nemeses turned begrudging allies and, most recently, snippy rivals once more.

This was quickly denied, however, by PKR information chief Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar Akin who said no such meeting took place at Anwar’s office despite reports to the effect.

Another unconfirmed report also had Ismail Sabri meeting Zahid at the Umno headquarters here, supposedly to convince the latter to throw his lot behind the former’s bid to succeed Muhyiddin.

The outcome of the purported meeting was unclear but it shone light on Zahid’s gaggle of 11 Umno MPs who could be, given the current political configuration, the kingmakers with the power to ultimately decide who will get the keys to Putrajaya.

Without this group, neither PN nor PH are likely to be able to muster the minimum of 110 MPs needed for the slimmest majority possible in Parliament at the moment.

Were Zahid and his band to rejoin the PN fold, the country would return to the status quo albeit with a new prime minister and Cabinet in place.

However, the optics of such a decision would be poor as it would require Umno to continue cooperating with Bersatu despite the resolution adopted during its annual assembly this year to sever ties with the offshoot party.

It would also put Zahid and the Umno leadership at odds with the party’s grassroots, particularly after insisting that the decision to reject Bersatu was based on what Umno’s members desired.

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely that Malaysia has seen the last of the political instability that has turned the office of the prime minister into a game of musical chairs.

Further political intrigue will still be in store until the day when the ninth prime minister is sworn in and, more than likely, beyond.

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