Will vote on amending infectious diseases Act trigger early GE?

Tension is brewing in Umno, with one camp hoping to trigger a general election by opposing a bill that the Dewan Rakyat is likely to vote on in March.

(FMT) – An Umno insider said some MPs from his party might not support the controversial amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

“This may weaken the prime minister’s position, which is already weak,” he told FMT.

“Some may feel it may not be easy for a general election to be held in the middle of this year, but it will be easier to force it if the leadership remains weak.”

The rift in Umno is said to be widening between a camp backing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and another backing party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Traditionally, in a Barisan Nasional government, the prime minister is also the Umno president. However, following a game of political upmanship between Umno and Bersatu recently, Ismail, a party vice-president, found himself named prime minister.

But power within the party remains in the hands of the party president, who has the final say in the selection of candidates for any election.

During the Putrajaya administration of Bersatu leader Muhyiddin Yassin from 2020 to August 2021, several Umno MPs had openly supported Muhyiddin, splitting Umno into two camps.

Umno MPs who supported Muhyiddin are said to be feeling uneasy as they fear Zahid may want to finish off his rivals in the party.

They and others in support of Ismail, therefore, want the general election to be held next year after the party elections in the hope that Ismail will be voted in as party president.

Meanwhile, Pakatan Harapan insiders said the coalition, made up of PKR, DAP, Amanah and Upko, was split over whether to continue supporting Ismail under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed last September.

A DAP insider said MPs from his party were caught between a rock and a hard place as they were, under the MoU, finally getting RM3.5 million annually for their constituencies.

“But we are also uncomfortable because we are being tied to government failures,” he said, referring to anger towards the government over its delayed response to the recent floods and several other matters, including the controversy surrounding Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki.

He said the people were beginning to feel that “PH does not have a backbone” to stand up to the government, thus weakening any possibility of a proper check and balance.

A PKR insider told FMT it was still not clear if the party’s leader, Anwar Ibrahim, planned to pull the plug on the MoU.

However, he said, PH MPs were unlikely to support the amendments to Act 342.

“If we support this Act, we are likely to lose ground support and be at the receiving end of the voters’ anger,” he said.

The bill, which aims at ensuring compliance with Covid-19 SOPs, proposes to maintain the maximum fine of RM10,000 for offences under Act 342, but to halve the maximum compound fine for companies to RM500,000.

Currently, all compound fines issued under the act are subject to a RM1,000 cap.