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Umno's expression of support a boost for Muhyiddin's leadership

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA'S United Malays National Organization (Umno) party expressed its support for the government on Monday, in a boost to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's leadership.

The party, the largest block in the ruling coalition, announced a "political ceasefire" and said it will back the government's efforts to manage the pandemic and boost economic growth, according to a statement from Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

"The cooperation of all parties in the government... must be strengthened in order to ensure political stability at a time when the country is facing the threat of Covid-19 and economic uncertainty," said the party's president.

The expression of support comes a week after Umno threatened to pull out unless it gets better terms, putting pressure on Mr Muhyiddin to shore up his unstable government or call a snap election. Umno leaders had complained of being sidelined, especially in the wake of last month's Sabah election.

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"It simply means Muhyiddin finally reached some sort of deal for the moment with the main faction of Umno," said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. "It remains to be seen how Umno interprets the rather vague statement, and how long the statement would stand."

While Mr Muhyiddin appears to be safe for now, he would have to continue to "tread gingerly" in his dealings with Umno to preserve his premiership, Mr Oh said.

Mr Muhyiddin in March emerged 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.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Oct 13 said he had the backing of more than 120 of Malaysia's 222 MPs, and urged the prime minister to resign. "The various political factions across party lines are still very much at war, albeit paying lip service to a truce in the face of a resurgent pandemic," Mr Oh added.

Malaysia has tightened curbs on movement and imposed work-from-home orders for about one million residents in its capital city of Kuala Lumpur, administrative capital Putrajaya and in the states of Selangor, Sabah and Labuan, as the country battles a spike in virus cases.

Malaysia reported 732 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, raising the total to 22,957 infections. It also recorded six new deaths, raising its total number of fatalities to 199.

Malaysia's king last Friday called on politicians to avoid political uncertainty amid the ongoing pandemic. The monarch had postponed meeting political leaders to verify Mr Anwar's claim, as the palace is under a semi-lockdown. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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