Parliament Ablaze On May 18 Bets Are On Muhyiddin Will Beat Mahathir At His Own Game

So, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is accepted by the Dewan Rakyat speaker. Now, despite Muhyiddin’s desperate attempt to limit the parliamentary session to one day, the sitting on May 18 may decide the longevity of his prime ministership
On May 7, 2009, Pakatan Rakyat’s Perak legislative speaker V Sivakumar was forcibly removed from the legislature to protect BN’s Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir from a vote of no-confidence. Then, BN still solidly controlled the federal government
Muhyiddin cannot “do a Sivakumar” on the Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Mohd Yusof. As his own majority is fragile, any attempt to remove the speaker will only further weaken his legitimacy
If Mahathir’s motion cannot be technically squeezed out of the agenda with the government’s business, then Muhyiddin’s best bet is to beat Mahathir at his own game. If the motion is defeated, the opposition will lose the moral high ground to stage another ouster and will have to live with his government for a while.So what could happen on May 18 or any other date – perhaps in July – if the motion is put to vote? I will list my predictions in the ascending order of probability.1. Mahathir becomes PM9After the motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin is carried, a motion of confidence in Mahathir has to be immediately passed to show that the House has a solid majority to back a new government. This will take away any excuse to dissolve Parliament, effectively tying the hands of the palace
This perhaps explains why Semporna MP Shafie Apdal tabled a motion of confidence in Mahathir, who is now only an ordinary MP. The motion has been rejected by the speaker on the grounds that it disputes the king’s power in appointing the prime minister
2. Snap electionIf for whatever reason, no motion of confidence for Mahathir can be passed after the motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin is carried, the game would be thrown wide open. Muhyiddin can seek royal consent to dissolve the House, which the king may grant
This is not the best time for a snap election because of the Covid-19 outbreak. But beyond that, given the messy relationship between the different parties in both the Perikatan Nasional government and the opposition camps, intense fighting over seats between allying parties and prospective candidates may even overshadow the real election
This will frustrate and anger many voters. Who will they punish, the government or the opposition that brings it down? It can go any direction but I will not put my bet on Mahathir and the opposition
3. Muhyiddin stays on as PMWith the extensive power to dispense patronage, it is hard to imagine that Muhyiddin will lose. More interesting than this outcome is what will it take to happen
My guess is 39 or more richer MPs
In theory, Muhyiddin has 113 MPs in his pocket, 64 of whom are ministers, minister-level envoys and deputy ministers who must vote with the government by the logic of parliamentary governance. These are the payroll votes
Two more MPs from Bersatu will vote with the government without more rewards. One is deputy speaker Mohd Rashid Hasnon, who is part of former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s “Gang of 10”. The other is Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu who has no reason to risk his state power
This leaves 47 more MPs –  23 from Umno, nine each from PAS and GPS, five from Muhyiddin’s faction of Bersatu and one independent (Bukit Gantang)
Minister-in-charge of parliamentary affairs Takiyuddin Hassan has proudly announced that the PN government will appoint every government backbencher to head some GLC or government agency
So far, eight government backbenchers, four from Umno, three from PAS, and one from Bersatu, have got their second salary. (Table 1). The latest two from Umno were reported only on May 8
This leaves 38 more government backbenchers and one supporter (Bukit Gantang) who have not got a second salary and may materially benefit from Mahathir’s motion. (Table 2). Seven of them – five from Umno, one each from GPS-PBB and Bersatu – were already named by Harian Metro on April 12 as potential appointees to head agencies like Felda, FGV, Felcra and MISC
To frustrate Mahathir’s move, Muhyiddin may even appoint one or two from the opposition camp. If Muhyiddin can strike a deal with Taib Mahmud who is believed to be the backer of Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), its sole parliamentarian from Seri Aman, Masir Kujat will likely be the beneficiary. The other possibility is Baru Bian who is rumoured to possibly join PSB
From now till May 18 are five working days. That’s more than enough time to get 39 or more letters of appointment out
If Muhyiddin indeed survives by buying off every government backbencher with a government agency or GLC appointment, it will be confirmed that he is both a puppet master to and a puppet controlled by the 112 fellow parliamentarians in his camp
This will further hurt his political legitimacy and that may likely be the largest political gain for Mahathir and the opposition
But if the public expectations are raised too high, a failure in ending Muhyiddin’s power may backfire on Mahathir and the opposition too. Mahathir may look like PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim in 2008 after failing in his gamble to bring down then prime minister Abdullah Badawi with the crossover of 30 MPs
After all, with an amateurish government, many Malaysians are expecting a professional opposition that focuses on how the country should be run, rather than who to run it

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