The key ally in Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's coalition has called for general elections to be held to establish a stable government once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, in a new snag to his fragile hold on power.
Muhyiddin, who took office in March, has only a two-seat majority in Parliament and is being challenged by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who recently alleged he has majority support of lawmakers to form a new government.
The United Malays National Organization, the biggest party in Muhyiddin's unelected government, reiterated support for his administration amid a spike in coronavirus cases but demanded polls to be held once the crisis abates.
“UMNO decided that a general election should be held to get a fresh mandate from the people to establish a stable government once the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control with a minimum number of cases," it said in a statement hours after a Thursday night meeting of its highest decision-making body.
UMNO's support may help Muhyiddin pass a key challenge next month to have the 2021 budget approved in parliament, but its open call for early election could mean that his leadership may be shortlived. Polls are not due until 2023.
UMNO, which had ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 elections, has been unhappy at being sidelined in the government amid rivalry with Muhyiddin’s own Malay party. Some UMNO lawmakers were reportedly among those who support Anwar’s bid to topple the government.
Muhyiddin took power in March after withdrawing his party from Anwar’s governing alliance that won 2018 polls. He tied up with the corruption-tainted UMNO and other opposition parties to form a Malay-centric government but his administration has been fraught with infighting.
Malaysia's king on Sunday rejected Muhyiddin's proposal for a coronavirus emergency that would have suspended Parliament and given the premier uncontested powers, saying current laws were enough to curb the pandemic. Many Malaysians were angered by Muhyiddin’s move, seen as a desperate bid to cling to power.