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Biggest Malaysian party meets as support for PM hangs in balance

This comes as Muhyiddin prepares to present 2021 federal budget next month

Kuala Lumpur

THE biggest party in Malaysia's ruling coalition met on Monday night to discuss its support for Prime Minister (PM) Muhyiddin Yassin, potentially depriving the embattled premier of the majority he needs to lead the country.

This comes just after the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) met its allies in Barisan Nasional (BN) to discuss the coalition's future. The majority of BN leaders rejected the possibility of working with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the Democratic Action Party, Malaysiakini reported, citing supreme council member Zahidi Zainul Abidin. There were also views to retract support for Mr Muhyiddin, he said.

The slew of meetings were held a day after Malaysia's king denied the PM's request to put the country under emergency rule to fight the pandemic. The emergency would have allowed Mr Muhyiddin to suspend parliament, where he had previously pushed contentious bills through despite his razor-thin majority.

In a Facebook post ahead of Monday's meeting, Umno supreme council leader Puad Zarkashi urged Mr Muhyiddin to step down.

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"It's apparent that the prime minister's advice was not accepted," he said. "Where is his credibility as prime minister?"

The premier is under pressure to shore up support as he prepares for a crucial leadership test next month.

The government is set to present its 2021 federal budget in parliament on Nov 6, and failing to pass that would count as losing a vote of no confidence.

The discussions add another twist to Malaysia's political drama that has seen various factions jockey for power after former PM Mahathir Mohamad abruptly stepped down in February. Mr Muhyiddin emerged in March as the head of an unwieldy bloc with a majority of only a few lawmakers, prompting constant speculation about the potential collapse of the government.

Mr Muhyiddin also faced calls from other quarters to resign on Monday as doubts swirled over the support that he commands, after the king rejected his request.

Leaders of other parties in the current PM's coalition and the opposition criticised his move to seek emergency powers, and called on him to step down after the bid failed.

"Thankfully, His Majesty the King was not influenced by the political game that could drag the country into more critical territory," said Mr Puad in a post on Facebook.

"The people's well- being is more important. By right, Muhyiddin should step down," he added.

Opposition lawmaker Wong Chen said Mr Muhyiddin's "malicious" proposal was rightfully rejected by the king, and that the premier should resign or fire ministers who proposed the emergency.

Despite the political crisis, Malaysia said on Monday that it will host the first virtual summit of leaders from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) nations in November, amid political uncertainty faced by Mr Muhyiddin.

Doubts had arisen earlier in the year if the summit would take place as planned due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

New Zealand, which is hosting next year's Apec summit, has said it will use virtual platforms to conduct the meeting due to travel restrictions and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

In a statement, the Ministry of International Trade & Industry said that Mr Muhyiddin will chair on Nov 20 the Economic Leaders' Meeting (AELM) which will have the participation of all 21 Apec economic leaders.

"Malaysia is making history by transforming Apec's usual ways of doing business and convening a majority of Apec Meetings in a fully virtual format," it said. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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