Opposition leader Anwar and Umno chief Zahid team up to oust PM Muhyiddin

Leslie Lopez, The Straits Times

Plans for a video campaign to chip away at support for the embattled Malaysian Prime Minister have been hatched by factions aligned to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the president of Umno.

Senior politicians aligned to both factions said the two leaders have agreed to marshal their elected representatives from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and Umno to prepare short video clips that will clearly state their opposition to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

These clips are to be delivered to Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, and Parliament Speaker Azhar Harun in the coming days.

The latest plan is aimed at establishing that Tan Sri Muhyiddin has lost his majority in Parliament. It is also aimed at putting pressure on Sultan Abdullah to demand that a Lower House sitting, now set for early September, be brought forward to early next week to test the Premier’s legitimacy to govern.

The sources added that both teams are also considering making the video clips available to the Malaysian public through social media, in a bid to worsen public perception of Mr Muhyiddin.

The shift in tactics comes after the plan early this week by the Zahid-led faction in Umno to withdraw its support from PM Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition failed to precipitate the fall of the government.

The 74-year-old Mr Muhyiddin headed off that challenge by securing an immediate audience with Sultan Abdullah and assuring the King that he still enjoyed a majority.

He produced statutory declarations from MPs backing him and pledged to submit himself to a confidence vote when the Lower House meets in September. He said that the King had agreed that the confidence vote be held in September.

Opposition leaders have claimed that the Premier misled the King with statutory declarations that were no longer valid, because several politicians have signed multiple declarations in recent months, with several of them backing Mr Muhyiddin and also pledging their support to his rivals.

“The short video clips will show what is the position at this time and we hope the King will act on this,” said a long-time ally of Datuk Seri Anwar who is involved in the joint campaign.

He added that Umno’s Zahid has also provided Sultan Abdullah with written pledges from six party MPs who have backed away from supporting the current government in recent days, bringing the total number of Umno officials pulling out from the Muhiyiddin-led government to 14.

Zahid said on Thursday (Aug 5) that more declarations from Umno MPs had been sent to the palace but did not provide any other details. The palace has also yet to comment on Sultan Abdullah’s meeting this week with the premier and Mr Muhyiddin’s claims that he continues to enjoy the majority.

Mr Muhyiddin, a seasoned politician who has been extremely successful in overcoming repeated challenges to his position over the past one year, is not sitting back. Sources said that the Premier and his PN allies have been courting elected MPs from both the opposition and Umno to build his support in Parliament following Umno’s pull-out this week.

The coming together of Anwar and Zahid supporters in this latest campaign spotlights the shifting alliances taking place in the country’s political turmoil. Umno, the country’s largest party, is split on whether to continue supporting Mr Muhyiddin.

That both sides are working together emerged over the weekend when political operatives aligned to Mr Anwar noted that Zahid was preparing to submit letters from several elected Umno MPs withdrawing their support for the government to Parliament Speaker Azhar. The letters were also copied to the palace for the attention of Sultan Abdullah, the sources said.

Datuk Azhar, who was supposed to leave on Monday evening for an official visit to Iran, was forced to cancel his trip after he received the Umno letters, people close to the Parliament Speaker told The Straits Times.

With 38 elected MPs, Umno has been the single-most important crutch to Mr Muhyiddin’s ruling coalition that, before this week’s turmoil, political analysts estimate enjoyed support from 113 elected representatives in the 222-seat Lower House.

Relations between Mr Muhyiddin and Zahid, who is facing a slew of corruption charges, have become strained in recent months, culminating in Monday’s decision for Umno to withdraw its support from PN.

But there are at least two dozen other Umno elected representatives, including Cabinet ministers and appointed officials in several government-linked entities, who decided to stick with Mr Muhyiddin.

Several senior Umno officials aligned to Zahid noted that the party president could move to take disciplinary action against the Umno politicians who are refusing to toe the party line, in a bid to force more Umno MPs to break away from the government.

Separately, the mushrooming cooperation between politicians in Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Zahid-led Umno has stoked unease among other PH component members, particularly the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which has 42 MPs.

DAP leaders are against cooperating with long-time rival Umno because they fear that Umno leaders, such as Zahid and former premier Najib Razak, are likely to demand preferential treatment over their pending corruption cases in exchange for political support.

Mr Muhyiddin alluded to this after his audience with Sultan Abdullah on Wednesday, claiming that he had been approached by several Umno leaders to interfere in their court cases in return for their political support. But opposition politicians counter that similar tactics had been used on all sides in recent weeks to get MPs to switch sides.