Muhyiddin still on top one year on

Chan Kok Leong

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (right) attending special prayers to mark the first anniversary of the Perikatan Nasional government in Putrajaya yesterday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Nazir Sufari, March 1, 2021.

MUHYIDDIN Yassin came into power a year ago, at a time when the first wave of Covid-19 infections hit, leading the prime minister to declare the first movement-control order (MCO) in mid-March.

Since then, it has been a juggling act balancing the fight against the pandemic and protecting livelihoods and the economy, all the while fighting for political survival.

While Malaysia was praised for the initial handling of the pandemic and even saw Muhyiddin’s popularity ratings up at one point, the 72-year-old’s biggest success is arguably his ability to survive the numerous challenges thrown his way as well as the infighting between Perikatan Nasional (PN) parties, namely his own Bersatu with Umno.  

The first challenge soon after he was sworn in on March 1 last year came from Umno, which questioned the prime minister’s choice of ministers and portfolios given to the party. 

And from there, the relationship between Bersatu and Umno has only worsened, culminating in two Barisan Nasional MPs (Gerik and Padang Rengas) withdrawing their support from Muhyiddin and suggesting that Umno discard PN at GE15. 

With the withdrawals, Muhyiddin lost his two-seat majority in Parliament until yesterday’s development when the Julau and Tebrau MPs from PKR signed statutory declarations in support of the PN government.

Muhyiddin has also had to face no-confidence motions from sacked Bersatu chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad and claims that he had lost the majority from Pakatan Harapan chairman Anwar Ibrahim.

Despite these challenges, one year later, Muhyiddin remains the prime minister, owing in part to a strategy of avoiding scrutiny and open challenges in Parliament.

The Malaysian Insight looks at how Muhyiddin was able to endure and stay in power.


March 13, 2020: Unhappy with the cabinet appointments, Umno makes several demands. This comes after several Umno MPs, including Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Azalina Othman Said said on social media that Umno deserved a fairer deal.

An empty major road in Kuala Lumpur on January 13, a day after the authorities imposed tighter restrictions on movement to try to halt the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus and after the king consented to a state of emergency. – AFP pic, March 1, 2021.

The Muhyiddin cabinet did away with a deputy prime minister but raised four MPs as senior ministers – two from Bersatu with one each from Umno and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). Muhyiddin’s first cabinet also ensured that Bersatu had the lion’s share of the portfolios despite being the smallest party in PN.

April 17, 2020: The Dewan Rakyat secretariat writes to all MPs informing them that the first parliamentary sitting of the year will be on May 18, instead of the scheduled 15 days, and will only be to hear government bills and matters.

The Covid-19 pandemic is cited as the reason for the truncated meeting. The meeting agenda is later changed to having only the Royal Address delivered.

May 8, 2020: Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin is accepted by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof for the single-day Parliament sitting on May 18. 

The motion does not reach the floor as the government replaces the Dewan Rakyat secretary on May 14 and only allows the Agong’s speech for the May 18 siting.

May 2020: Leaked audio clips alleging Muhyiddin planned to offer positions to Umno leaders to get them into Bersatu surface. Another leaked clip also hears him telling Bersatu leaders to let Dr Mahathir decide on whether the party should quit PH, a day before Muhyiddin, without Dr Mahathir’s consent, withdraws the party from PH.

To date, Muhyiddin has not answered the allegations.

May 29, 2020: Bersatu sacks Dr Mahathir and four others. Dr Mahathir goes on to form Pejuang and there is little fallout from the sackings.

September 23, 2020: Umno president Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Umno MPs are free to support Anwar, after the PKR president tells the media that he has majority support and that Muhyiddin’s government has fallen.

October 13, 2020: Anwar tells the media that he has shown the king evidence that he has the majority to replace Muhyiddin.

October 29, 2020: By now, a record 25 MPs have filed no-confidence motions against Muhyiddin ahead of the November Parliament sitting. Newly appointed Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun, however, rules that “government business” comes ahead of private members’ bills and none of the motions is debated.

Umno’s veteran MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah questions Azhar’s decision.

Anwar Ibrahim telling the media that he has the majority to replace Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister on October 13. – AFP pic, March 1, 2021.

November 10, 2020: Former Umno president and Pekan MP Najib Razak hints that Umno may not support Muhyiddin’s first Budget 2021 if its demands are not met. Although the government brushes aside Umno’s concerns, MPs toe the line to back the Budget 2021 when it is put to a vote.

January 7, 2021: Umno Supreme Council rules that the general assembly (scheduled for January 31) will decide on whether to stop the Umno-Bersatu cooperation after 118 out of 147 divisions pass resolutions on the matter.

January 9, 2021: Machang MP Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub withdraws support for Muhyiddin.

January 12, 2021: Padang Rengas MP Mohd Nazri Aziz withdraws support for Muhyiddin, leaving the latter with just 110 MPs out of 220 sitting MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. (Two more seats are vacant due to the incumbents’ deaths.)

January 12, 2021: Muhyiddin said the king has consented to a state of emergency effective January 11, suspending the federal constitution, Parliament and all elections, and placing sweeping power in the hands of the executive. The emergency is ostensibly to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

February 23, 2021: Umno said it will hold the 2020 general assembly on March 27 and 28 to decide fate of Umno-Bersatu ties in GE15.

February 24, 2021: The king rules that Parliament can convene despite the state of emergency, noting that it is “erroneous” to think that the house cannot convene to perform its functions during an emergency.

February 28, 2021: Muhyiddin regains two MPs on his side when Julau lawmaker Larry Sng and Tebrau rep Steven Choong, both from PKR, sign statutory declarations supporting the PN government. – March 1, 2021.

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