AS Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin met the Yang di-Pertuan Agong today just after high noon and news filtered out that the cabinet had already tendered its resignation, pouring rain blanketed the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the Parliament building and the palace.

Whether it would be an omen of tough times to come or a new era washed clean by the need to face tough times under a new leadership would now depend on two things –  the wisdom of the king and our members of Parliament, in whose collective hands lie the choice of the new government.

With Muhyiddin and his cabinet forced into resignation, now the due process to form a new government begins. The constitution gives the power to the king to appoint a new person, who, in his judgment, is likely to command a majority in Parliament.

That is going to be a complicated process, and the king has a tough decision to make that will depend on how events unfold over the next few days. A general election is not an option right now. Who he chooses will dictate how things go moving forward. And who will that be?

The thing to remember is that he may pick someone who does not have a majority yet, effectively giving the chosen one the mandate to get enough MPs to stand beside him. But the person he chooses must have a reasonable chance of forming the government.

With Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet forced into resignation, now the due process to form a new government begins. – The Vibes file pic, August 16, 2021
With Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet forced into resignation, now the due process to form a new government begins. – The Vibes file pic, August 16, 2021

When Muhyiddin admitted that he had lost the majority on Saturday, there was no choice but to offer his resignation. His last gambit – offering pieces in the form of money to MPs, parliamentary reforms and enhanced benefits to the opposition leader in return for Parliamentary support – was turned down flat by the opposition.

A little hiccup caused by backroom DAP manoeuvrings spearheaded by the party’s rising MPs, Tony Pua and Ong Kian Ming, to at least discuss Muhyiddin’s olive branch was roundly condemned, reflecting the wide public opposition to Muhyiddin.

It was a rather curious measure because the main reason advanced for this movement was to stop the rise to power of the kleptocrats and so-called court cluster – an oblique reference to people like former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and others who are facing charges in court. (Food for thought: DAP chief Lim Guan Eng is facing charges in court, too – is he part of the court cluster then?)

If that was really the reason, why not simply support Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Pakatan Harapan’s leader, and work for him to be the chosen prime minister, instead of pitching someone who has proven time and again that he cannot be trusted and is ineffectual in terms of handling Covid-19 and other crises, as I stated here.

At the least, that ill-considered was a move to test the waters and at the worst, it indicated a wavering of support for PH and Anwar by some sectors within DAP working together with those who are close to Muhyiddin and are his advisers.

Sources said they include former finance minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and The Edge Media Group owner Datuk Tong Kooi Ong, a former staunch supporter of Anwar – how times change! Both Tengku Zafrul and Tong are part of the supreme committee of Muhyiddin’s powerful Economic Action Council.

In what sources said was a somewhat stormy meeting, the PH presidential council rejected Muhyiddin’s poisoned chalice and affirmed Anwar as its leader and choice of PM. It was wise of them to stick to that.

The charts show how the numbers currently stack up based on support so far established. The reason Muhyiddin’s majority fell was because of the withdrawal of support for him by 15 Umno MPs, who had accordingly informed the king. This meant that he had backing from only 100 seats.

Based on that withdrawal, Muhyiddin has lost his majority and must resign his position under the constitution – this has been clearly explained before by many people, including in this article here. The latest is a press release from the Malaysia Bar.

The breakdown of support in the charts is instructive. Note first that Barisan Nasional is only a partner, but not an official member of the Perikatan Nasional coalition, restricting its support in terms of confidence motions, supply bills and in other ways deemed fit. The same goes for Sarawak’s Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition, which rules the state.

Thus, PN has just 50 seats, comprising Bersatu (31), PAS (18) and Star (1). BN’s number of seats has been whittled down to 27 (of which Umno holds 23) from 42 before with the withdrawal of support from 15 Umno MPs. Another five MPs from independents and small parties take the amount of support for Muhyiddin to 100.

There are 120 MPs who are clearly in opposition to Muhyiddin now. The biggest block comprises 88 seats from PH, 35 from PKR, 42 from DAP and 11 from Amanah.

Recall that at the end of the 14th general election (GE14), PKR had 47 seats, which increased to 48 from an independent who joined PKR. The Sheraton move and others saw PKR lose 13 MPs – who right now may be candidates for a return under the right circumstances and incentives.

If Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s Warisan throws in its lot again with PH, and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman along with the other small parties stay put, PH’s support will rise to 101. Although Shafie is said to be seeking to become PM, that is hardly likely with a mere eight seats.

If the Umno 15 who withdrew support for Muhyiddin goes with PH, then the party plus allies will total to 116, comfortably exceeding the 111 required for a majority to form the government without Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pejuang’s four seats. Dr Mahathir has made his opposition to Anwar becoming PM very obvious.

There are other permutations and combinations of course. Two others: one, Bersatu and Umno can come back together again with PAS to form a government without Muhyiddin. The best possibility for that happening is via former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob. But with an Umno split, that seems unlikely.

Two, there can be a compromise candidate seeking bipartisan support, for example, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah from Umno. Such a candidate can stay on until the next general election are due in 2023 and may involve power-sharing between the two blocks. However, although the opposition may consent to this, Razaleigh’s support within Umno is not great.

In addition to those who deserted it before, PH can also court Bersatu, formerly part of PH, to come back into the fold to increase its numbers. Muhyiddin still heads Bersatu and although he has stepped down as head of government and is only there as caretaker prime minister, his role as a kingmaker is there.

In terms of the GPS, it may well support the coalition, which has the most support from peninsula MPs, which is likely to be the PH grouping. Some approaches may be all it takes to swing it.

It certainly looks like the person most likely to be able to command a majority in Parliament is Anwar. Unless a deal materialises, which resolves this issue earlier by a transparent procedure that establishes a clear majority, Anwar should be given the chance to form the next government.

There are three other strong arguments going in favour of Anwar. First, he was the leader of PH when the coalition won in 2018. The then designated interim prime minister, Dr Mahathir, had undertaken to pass the baton to him when the time came, but reneged on the promise. Choosing Anwar (and PH) reflects and restores the wishes of the people in GE14.

Second, a real change of government will happen only with PH and allies, otherwise, we will see the same old people dressed up in new clothes. Only PH can keep the kleptocrats and court cluster out of power because any combination of Bersatu or Umno will have to compromise with one another. Bersatu or Umno will not have the same hold over PH if elements of them come into the party.

Strange that elements in DAP do not see that the best way to keep the kleptocrats and court cluster at bay is for the PH coalition to be the lynchpin in any new arrangement. Nevertheless, it is hard to see a DAP which does not support the party.

Third, there is a far better chance of getting a good cabinet with PH in power with its allies. There is so much more to choose from compared to Bersatu/Umno or Umno/Bersatu. Many of Muhyiddin’s cabinet and key leaders were incompetent and corrupt to boot, appointed to their place in return for support.

There is a great chance to put Malaysia back on the straight and narrow path, one that will resonate with what the people had chosen in 2018. The king and MPs have a real and substantial obligation to the rakyat to ensure this happens. – The Vibes, August 16, 2021

P. Gunasegaram is glad that the constitutional due process is now going on without a hitch. He is executive director of advocacy group Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes