Muhyiddin Yassin has had a tough time since becoming prime minister in March.
If it were not for the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions, the 73-year-old Bersatu president would have had to face questions about the support he has from MPs.
In May, Muhyiddin preempted Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s attempt to table a no-confidence motion in the Dewan Rakyat by changing the agenda at the last minute and replacing house secretary Riduan Rahmat.
It came as a surprise when he submitted a motion to replace Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Yusoff and Deputy Speaker Nga Kor Ming last Friday.
While Nga’s partiality could be called into question as he is a DAP leader and MP for Teluk Intan, Ariff is a retired judge and has been lauded by both sides for making parliamentary reforms since coming to office in 2018.
“This is an attempt to show he does have a majority in Parliament,” said International Islamic University of Malaysia political science lecturer Dr Tunku Mohar Tunku Mohd Mokhtar, referring to Muhyiddin’s motion.
“But he is taking a big political risk here as if he fails to get the majority to remove the speaker, it means that he does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of Dewan Rakyat.
“By parliamentary convention, he must resign. But it will nevertheless be an interesting test of sorts,” said Tunku Mohar.
Besides a no-confidence vote, the budget vote and motion for speaker are conventionally used as a gauge of the government’s level of support in Parliament.
While defeat does not necessarily mean that the government will collapse immediately, it nevertheless signals the strength of a government.
Muhyiddin’s situation is exacerbated by the fact that Perikatan Nasional was not voted into power during the 2018 elections but formed in February after Mohamed Azmin Ali’s defection from PKR and the withdrawal of Bersatu from the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
Kangar MP Noor Amin Ahmad believes that Muhyiddin is trying to buy time amid calls from PN party leaders for fresh elections.
“He doesn’t want to be the prime minister with the shortest stint in the office after taking part in the takeover of the government in February.
“And he also doesn’t want people to remember that he failed to prove that he has enough support and yet still wants to betray the original mandate of the people,” said Noor Amin.
He said the Muhyiddin’s move to replace Ariff and Nga is just a way to buy more time as Bersatu is not ready for snap polls.
“Bersatu and Azmin Ali’s team are obviously not ready to face fresh elections as they have not yet strengthened their base or finalise seat negotiations with Umno and PAS.
“This is the right time for him to settle this issue once and for all and buy some time as it will be huge blow to the opposition if he can gain enough votes to replace the speaker,” said the PKR leader.
PKR vice-president Chang Lih Kang said Muhyiddin has no choice but to replace Ariff, who has done little wrong since coming into office in 2018.
“Muhyiddin probably feels this is the right time as the opposition is not making any inroads due to PM candidate issue.”
Senator and DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong hopes Muhyiddin will explain why he wants to remove Ariff.
“I hope Muhyiddin will explain the need to remove a very decent and highly qualified non-partisan speaker. I am surprised at the decision to remove the speaker and deputy speaker.
“Is Muhyiddin so confident that he has the majority to get it through? Would the vote become the de facto confidence vote for Muhyiddin?”