KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad presented in February a list of 115 MPs purportedly backing him to be sworn in as prime minister for the third time after a political crisis, but how have things changed?
In what is arguably Malaysia’s most important numbers game in politics, a simple majority of elected MPs in the Dewan Rakyat is needed to form government, which means support from at least 112 out of the 222 MPs is required.
The last week of February 2020 saw a series of dramatic events take place, including the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and a scramble to prove majority support to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who was forced to step in to help resolve the political crisis.
In that historic week filled with twists and turns, PH on February 29 morning changed its prime minister candidate from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to Dr Mahathir who said he was confident of majority support, with all party presidents across the political divide meeting the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the same day to present their candidate choice, with the Agong then announcing in the afternoon that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be the next prime minister.
Dr Mahathir on the night of February 29 released a list of 114 MPs backing him, before updating it to 115 after adding an MP that was inadvertently left out. But the effort was ultimately too late for PH, as Muhyiddin was sworn in on March 1 morning as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia.
Muhyiddin on March 9 unveiled his full Cabinet line-up under the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, which included some of the MPs that were in Dr Mahathir’s February list.
Since then, the country has also undergone an unprecedented movement control order (MCO) to limit the spread of Covid-19, which also restricted the movement of politicians and lawmakers during this crucial period.
Below is a comparison of Dr Mahathir’s initial list of 115 MPs on February 29 and how it has changed then, which in some cases illustrate how quickly political loyalties and allegiances can change in Malaysia:
Six Bersatu MPs including Dr Mahathir was listed as backing him as the PM choice, with the rest being his son and then Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir (Jerlun MP), then Bersatu Youth chief and Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik, Kubang Pasu MP Amiruddin Hamzah and Negri Sembilan’s Kuala Pilah MP Datuk Eddin Syazlee Shith.
Bersatu on May 28 booted out Dr Mahathir and all the MPs supporting him (except for Eddin Syazlee), but Dr Mahathir and the four other MPs insist that their party memberships and party positions are still valid. Mukhriz had on May 17 lost his position as Kedah mentri besar.
Eddin Syazlee was appointed as deputy minister handling the parliament and law portfolio under PM Muhyiddin’s new Cabinet, which implied he was likely no longer in this list.
A new addition from Bersatu initially appeared possible when Sri Gading MP Datuk Shahruddin Md Salleh on June 4 resigned as deputy works minister over the “mistake” of joining the PN government, but things are currently unclear as he said the same day that he remains as a PN backbencher in Parliament.
Current count: Reduced from six to five.
A total of 40 MPs from this party — including party president Anwar — were listed as backing Dr Mahathir as prime minister then.
There have been changes in two names listed previously under PKR, including Sabah’s Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin whose membership status — including whether he had quit the party — became unclear during the February political crisis. But on March 9, he was named as deputy home affairs minister and is now listed on Parliament’s website as a Bersatu member.
Sarawak’s Lubok Antu MP Jugah anak Muyang @ Tambat, who won his seat in the May 9, 2018 as an independent candidate, had joined the party PKR just a few days later after his electoral victory.
The allocated seat for Jugah who was PKR vice-president during the one-day May 18, 2020 parliament sitting in the Dewan Rakyat was still with the federal opposition. But on June 5, Jugah quit PKR to become an independent MP and pledged his support to the PN government under Muhyiddin, citing the need for development funds from the government for his rural constituency. He pledged his loyalty to PN the next day.
Current count: Reduced from 40 to 38.
A total of 42 MPs (including party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Nga Kor Ming) backed Dr Mahathir. No changes have occurred since then.
Current count: 42.
4. Parti Amanah Negara
A total of 11 MPs from Amanah including party president Mohamad Sabu in February backed Dr Mahathir to be prime minister. There have also been no changes since then.
Current count: 11.
5. Parti Warisan Sabah
Nine MPs including party president and Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal backed Dr Mahathir as the candidate for prime minister. The status quo has remained.
Current count: Nine.
6. United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko)
The Sabah-based party’s president and sole MP Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau backed Dr Mahathir, consistent with the party’s decision in leaving the Barisan Nasional coalition after the 2018 elections to form a new government in Sabah in partnership with Warisan and PH.
Current count: One.
7. Parti Bersatu Sabah
This Sabah-based party’s president and sole MP Datuk Seri Maximus Johnity Ongkili initially backed Dr Mahathir on February 29 in what he later explained was for the sake of political stability and to find a solution to the political impasse, but the next day voiced the party’s support of Muhyiddin’s leadership as the newly sworn in prime minister in hopes of having Sabah’s illegal immigrants problem resolved and to have Sabah’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 restored.
In the Cabinet line-up unveiled by Muhyiddin on March 9, Ongkili was appointed as minister in the prime minister’s department in charge of Sabah and Sarawak affairs. Muhyiddin had then said his new administration was serious about development in Sabah and Sarawak.
Current count: Zero.
8. Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR)
This Sabah-based party’s president and sole MP Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan on February 29 confirmed his support for Dr Mahathir, but the next day was seen at Muhyiddin’s swearing-in ceremony as prime minister and later confirmed that he had ultimately chose to support Muhyiddin to end the political crisis. On March 9, Jeffrey was named deputy tourism, arts and culture minister in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet.
Current count: Zero.
Perak’s Bukit Gantang MP Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Abdul Fasal was an independent MP who had quit Umno in June 2018, and was initially listed on February 29 as supporting Dr Mahathir but was reported the same night as denying such support.
On June 6, Bersatu said Syed Abu Hussin had handed in his membership form to Muhyiddin. In a Sinar Harian report, Syed Abu Hussin subsequently denied that the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM) chairman post that he was serving (at least since May) was in exchange for him joining Bersatu and said that it was to allow him to help fishermen.
Current count: Zero.
PKR initially said on February 29 that Sarawak United Peoples’ Party’s (SUPP) deputy president and sole MP Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem had left his party to join PKR and support, with his name listed as an independent MP backing Dr Mahathir.
He was later reported denying quitting SUPP and also denied joining PKR. SUPP is part of the Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition that is under the PN coalition. In May, he was appointed as the prime minister’s special envoy to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Current count: Zero.
11. Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB)
Baru Bian, who was one of the PKR MPs who left the party together with then party deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali on February 24, explained on March 1 that he had initially backed Dr Mahathir to be prime minister for a full term.
Baru said that he had later supported Muhyiddin as the prime minister candidate when it appeared Dr Mahathir was not keen to continue the role, but had subsequently decided to back Dr Mahathir when the latter announced on February 29 his intention to take up the job.
Baru had last month joined Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), a Sarawak-based opposition party.
Masir Kujat, who was PSB’s sole MP on February 29, had on that night in a video denied supporting Dr Mahathir and said he was backing Muhyiddin. The next evening (March 1), his party decided it would back Dr Mahathir and PH.
While Masir was allocated a seat with the government bloc in the seating plan for the May 18 parliamentary sitting, he explained the same day that it was merely a seat allocated to him, but that he is a member of the president council of the PSB which is an opposition party to the PN government.
Current count: Two.
The total tally of MPs backing Dr Mahathir as prime minister candidate or would at least be opposed to the PN coalition has gone down from the initial listed 115 MPs to a total of 108 MPs as of now.
In other words, that would likely mean 114 MPs being aligned to the PN coalition under Muhyiddin’s leadership as prime minister, with slightly more than half or close to two-thirds holding positions as ministers or deputy ministers or as the prime minister’s special envoy.
PKR president Anwar on Wednesday appeared to confirm the range of such figures when he said there were 107 MPs in the parties aligned with PH. The grouping has been styled as Pakatan Plus. Anwar’s office yesterday explained how he arrived at the 107 figure.
Dr Mahathir had last month attempted to pursue a motion for a vote of no-confidence in Parliament to conclusively determine whether Muhyiddin has the majority support to continue on as prime minister. The vote did not take place, as parliamentary business during the one-day May 18 sitting was limited to just the Yang di-Pertuan Agong delivering his speech.
But Dr Mahathir subsequently said the federal Opposition would give trouble to the PN administration under Muhyiddin’s leadership by rejecting Bills or proposed laws that they bring to Parliament, saying that Opposition parties would seize any chance it has to prove that Muhyiddin lacks legitimacy to continue on as prime minister if MPs are not allowed to table a no-confidence vote.
It remains to be seen if Dr Mahathir would remain the Opposition’s choice as prime minister candidate or if Anwar would again be designated as such a candidate, following Pakatan Plus’s hours-long meeting earlier this week on undisclosed matters which they said showed “positive progress” with the finalisation of all decisions to be done within this week.
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