The rise of Perikatan Nasional and Muhyiddin Yassin as 8th PM?: Events in the political turmoil of Malaysia from Wednesday 26 February 4pm to Saturday 29 February midnight

The last four days have seen political parties change sides faster than seaside weather. In what seems like the end of the almost week-long poker game, the Agong announced at 4.40pm on Saturday 29 February that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be sworn in the following day Sunday 1 March as Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister. How did we get here? This piece is to once again follow chronologically the events over the last few days, in succinct form, to ensure that when we go back in history we will ensure that we follow the facts of what transpired. Especially in a week where politicians and parties were making U-turns, sometimes several times in a day, it is hoped that this will help to distinguish fact from fiction, the latter of which can occur on account of poor human memory.  

Wednesday 26 February

We left off at 3pm on Wednesday afternoon 26 February, where all awaited a press conference by Mahathir Mohamed at 4.45pm. In this PC, he broke silence about the reasons he resigned as Prime Minister, apologized for the predicament he put the country in and essentially called for a unity government with no party. He also put it on record that he would not be willing to work with Umno as a party, but that he would work with individuals who leave Umno and join other parties.

In a subsequent press conference by Anwar Ibrahim, he announced, alongside other Pakatan Harapan MPs from PKR, DAP and Amanah, that they would back him as Prime Minister.

Thursday 27 February

On Thursday 27 February, it was announced at 9.58am that the Istana would be summoning Mahathir at 11am.

At 10.30am, it was announced by Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man from PAS that all UMNO and PAS MPs had signed statutory declarations for Muhyiddin Yasin as Prime Minister. However, this was later refuted by another PAS member Takiyuddin Hassan. It is unclear whether PAS supported Muhyiddin, another candidate, or did not put down a name at all.

At 12.15pm, Mahathir was seen leaving from the Istana after an hour’s meeting. There were also rumours of Anwar Ibrahim being summoned to the Istana. It was around this time that the atmosphere outside the Istana was building up to be carnival-like, with numerous companies taking the opportunity to give out goodies for branding purposes. One such company even led an exercise routine on the grassy area. I put in my notes: “Mild-mannered democratic consolidation.”

At 12.18pm, The Star reported that the Agong would meet with the Rulers in a Rulers Council meeting the following day, on 28 February.

At 12.30pm, Jonathan Yasin, one of the 11 MPs that had originally been listed together with Azmin Ali and Zuraida Kamaruddin as leaving PKR said that he is still a PKR member. At 1.48pm, however, he deleted that denial and replaced it with another post saying that any party matters would be discussed with the party.

At 1.09pm, Mahathir said that he accepted the Bersatu Chairmanship again. But another news portal states that he would be returning as Advisor, and not the Chair. This is an important point that would determine how things unfolded two days later. Although seemingly perfunctory, the distinction between “Chair” and any other position would cost him the ability to manage and make decisions for and on behalf of the party.

As for the states, it was reported at 12.05pm that there would be no change in the Kedah state government, in which Bersatu would be working with Pakatan Harapan. Interestingly, immediately following that at 2.19pm, the Johor palace confirmed that the Johor state government had now changed to a new government consisting of Bersatu and Barisan Nasional. This meant that there would be two different coalitions within two different states, making for a very strange situation where Bersatu would be working with PH in Kedah, but BN in Johor. This was formed after the Sultan interviewed 54 out of 56 assemblypersons and found there was a simple majority in Bersatu and BN’s favour.

At 2.47pm, it was reported that Muhyiddin was meeting Mahathir. Muhyiddin was sighted entering the PMO at 2.20pm and leaving after 3pm.

At 5pm, Mahathir launched a stimulus package as interim Prime Minister, which had been prepared prior to the collapse of the PH government. The Economic Stimulus Package 2020 is meant to address economic woes of the country following the Covid-19 situation. At the press conference following this launch, he said that after meeting with the 222 MPs over two days, there was no PM candidate with a clear majority, so he quoted the Agong as saying that the right forum to decide that would be at the Dewan Rakyat. Mahathir said that “So on March 2, a Parliament session will be called to determine who has the majority of support”. If the Dewan Rakyat failed to determine who should be PM, a snap election would be called.

At 11.21pm, PH issued a statement saying it was inappropriate for Mahathir to announce that Parliament would be convened, stating that they would prefer to observe the authority of the Agong.

Friday 28 February

The morning of Friday was relatively quiet and news-free. At 1.19pm, it was reported that the Speaker said there would be no special Parliamentary sitting according to procedures, where this could only take place after a royal decree from the Agong.

Pakatan Harapan also issued a statement saying that it would be better to wait for the Agong to announce.

At 4pm, the Istana issued a statement that no one has majority to be the new Prime Minister, and hence the Agong would meet with party leaders who would then nominate the PM candidate.

At 4.30pm, Bersatu said that all 36 MPs support Muhyiddin Yasin for PM. Bersatu previously had 26 MPs, so at the time of this statement I assumed that the additional 10 MPs were the group led by Azmin Ali, having left PKR and now joined Bersatu. Recall that the list originally included 11 people, but Jonathan Yasin announced he was remaining in PKR, leaving Azmin’s 10.

At 6.02pm, Sabah’s Warisan and UPKO, and Sarawak’s GPS were reported to back Muhyiddin as PM as well.

By the end of this day, it seemed likely that Bersatu, together with its new partners UMNO and other BN members MCA and MIC, and PAS, would be forming the new government under its Perikatan Nasional coalition, with Muhyiddin Yasin as its Prime Minister. That night, Pakatan Harapan would (as we would learn the following day) be meeting late into the night and into the wee hours of the morning, with Mahathir once again, apparently brokered by his daughter Marina Mahathir.

Saturday 29 February

If reports are true, then Pakatan Harapan had met with Mahathir till early Saturday morning, to issue a statement later that morning.

At 8.45am, Syed Saddiq of Bersatu Youth reiterated that he would not work with UMNO, whom he considered to be corrupt.

At 9.30am, Mahathir and PH both issued statements. Mahathir said that after having met with the PH leaders in the morning, he now had the numbers to be Prime Minister, and PH confirming that they would now back Mahathir.

At the same time, the Istana summoned political party leaders to meet with the Agong, and they were expected to meet at 10.30am.

At 12pm, Bersatu issued a statement signed by Muhyiddin Yasin saying that Mahathir had resigned his Chair position on 24 Feb, stating that according to its constitution if the Chair resigns, the President becomes its new chair. As such, Muhyiddin is the new Acting Chair. Around this time, photos were circulating on WhatsApp of Maszlee Malik of Bersatu in a home with Muhyiddin, Hadi Awang and Zahid Hamidi and several others.

In what showed an obvious split in the party, Bersatu issued a statement at 12.50pm that directly contradicted the previous statement. Signed by its Secretary General Marzuki Yahya, the statement said that Mahathir was still the Chair of Bersatu, and as such was the only one who could lead the party, citing parts of the party constitution. It seemed like the party was also facing its own constitutional crisis.

At 1.50pm, Anwar Ibrahim left the Istana and said that he represented the PH coalition and had expressed support for Mahathir as Prime Minister to the Agong.  Anwar said that he supported Mahathir as PM. He said that he was touched for the support for him, but chose to look at the national interest over personal agenda.

From 3pm onwards, there was a series of reports showing that Mahathir had support of several new MPs. This included Richard Riot (3.40pm) who was reported as leaving SUPP to join PKR. At 3.55pm: Warisan and UPKO of Sabah announced their support for Tun Mahathir separately. At 4.30pm, Maszlee issued a long two-page statement stating he was supporting Mahathir.

Despite renewed avowals of support for Mahathir, things took a turn when the Agong made an official announcement at 4.40pm that Muhyiddin Yasin would be the 8th Prime Minister, to be sworn in on the following day. Wan Saiful Wan Jan from Bersatu issued a statement hoping that this would mark the end of the political impasse over the past week. Berita Harian also reported the same news at 5.40pm.

At this point, it was uncertain how Muhyiddin and the new Perikatan Nasional were able to obtain the necessary number of MPs to form government. GPS of Sarawak had not yet given (at least recently) any indication of where its support would lean. Sure enough, at 6pm, a video circulating on WhatsApp showed that Muhyiddin thanked GPS, amongst others, for its support. Later, at 8.36pm, GPS officially said that they would support Muhyiddin as Prime Minister but clarified that while it supported Perikatan Nasional, it was not one of its member component parties.

At 7.40pm, Maszlee says that he supported Muhyiddin as the Prime Minister, but it is not clear whether this meant he was still part of Bersatu or whether he had left. In any case, a Facebook post at 8pm by Mukhriz Mahathir listed the six MPs supporting Mahathir as PM, and the list included Maszlee. The six he listed were 1) Mukhriz Mahathir – Jerlun 2) Ir Amiruddin Hamzah – Kubang Pasu 3) Syed Saddiq Abd Rahman – Muar 4) Dr Maszlee Malik – Simpang Renggam 5) Eddin Syazlee Shith – Kuala Pilah 6) Mahathir Mohamad – Langkawi.

In the meantime, civil society called for a gathering at Dataran Merdeka at 8.30pm, asking those who were “outraged by the betrayal” to come together. Anecdotal reports put the crowd size as almost double of the numbers that showed up at the first public gathering several nights before.

In yet another twist in a long series of twists and turns, PKR announced that Baru Bian who was amongst the “Azmin 10” MPs had now signed a new statutory declaration to go with Pakatan Harapan. As a result, Fahmi Fadzil of PKR claimed that PKR had 114 MPs in total, surpassing the 112 required to form government.

Pakatan Harapan Presidential Council met at 9pm, and at close to 11pm Mahathir Mohamed issued a statement containing the full list of MPs who were in support of Mahathir as Prime Minister. This included the six Bersatu MPs as previously mentioned, 40 from PKR, 10 from Amanah, 9 from Warisan, 1 from UPKO, 42 from DAP, 2 independents (including Bukit Gantang’s Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal and Selangau’s Baru Bian), GPS (Jeffrey Kitingan) and one other independent from Sri Aman (Masir Kijat).

However, immediately after this statement was issued, both the Bukit Gantang MP and Sri Aman MP denied that they supported Mahathir and said they supported Muhyiddin. PH’s original list of 114 was therefore down by two, at 112 MPs. However, the list apparently mistakenly did not include PKR’s Hulu Selangor June Leow, so the list was updated at 11.49pm. This brings PH’s number to exactly 113 MPs, one more than needed to form government.

Muhyiddin is supposed to be sworn in tomorrow at 10.30am (Sunday 1 March 2020). In Mahathir’s statement, he says that he has sent a letter to the Agong to clarify the situation and hopes that the Agong will receive his letter and his explanation.

Evidently, Pakatan Harapan is hopeful that the Agong will take this list into consideration. However, it is unclear if the Agong will accept the letter after having already made the earlier announcement of Muhyiddin being appointed as the 8th PM. If he does not accept Mahathir’s late night case, then procedurally what PH can next do is wait for the parliamentary sitting on 9th March to call for a vote of no-confidence in Muhyiddin Yassin, in which case if PH has the numbers then they would win such a vote – and then nominate and vote for whoever they hope to be the 9th Prime Minister. However, a week is much too long in politics and it is obvious why the late intervention is the option that PH much prefers.

Constitutionally, it is up to the Agong’s discretion on whom he believes to command the majority of the House. Let’s see what unfolds tomorrow morning.

Update on the next morning, Sunday 1 March

As announced, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister at the Istana at 10.30am.

Pakatan Harapan’s latest tally as clarified in a press statement is 112 MPs.

As stated above, one recourse for PH is to wait for the upcoming parliamentary sitting at which PH may display its vote of no confidence in the current PM. Until then, it is business as usual for the rest of us. PH was a short-lived government for less than two years, and we will now have the return of BN parties + Bersatu + PAS. I will be uploading some more analytical pieces in the days to come. Thanks for watching this space.

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