By P Gunasegaram

BERSATU’S support for its president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to be PM and the anticipated support too from Umno and PAS appears to have given him an edge over Pakatan Harapan’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The King’s admission that he has not yet identified an MP that has majority support to form a new government means that he has passed the decision back to MPs and their political parties to come up with an arrangement.

He said that he will also contact the leaders of the political parties that have representatives in the Dewan Rakyat, to give them the chance to nominate an MP as the next prime minister. This means that this weekend and the days ahead will see intense activity by the factions to get the necessary numbers.

At the time of writing, the two contenders are Harapan’s Anwar and Bersatu’s Muhyiddin who was proposed by Bersatu after the King’s announcement. This marks the demise of Mahathir’s unity government.

The highest support, going by current known alignments, is Muhyiddin (Umno 39, Bersatu 26, PAS 18, Azmin’s faction 10, MCA 2 and MIC 1 for a total of 96). Anwar commands at least 92 MPs (PKR 39, DAP 42 and Amanah 11). Sarawak (GPS 18) and Sabah (Warisan 9) hold the balance. If GPS goes with Muhyiddin, he becomes PM. Harapan needs GPS plus two more MPs for a simple majority. GPS is expected to make an announcement on this on March 1.

The decision of the Parliament speaker not to call for a meeting of the house on March 2, as intended by interim Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the support for the decision by the King means that an early decision will not be forced upon the Parliament soon.

Mahathir had said on Feb 27 that Parliament will be convened on March 2 to see if there is anyone who has majority support from MPs, failing which he presumably will advise the King to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections.

With the latest developments, there will be more time before the King makes a final decision on who can likely form a government. Under the Federal Constitution, the King can pick a person who he thinks is likely to be able to form a government.

Section 43 (2) says: “The Cabinet shall be appointed as follows, that is to say: (a) the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representatives who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House; and (b) he shall on the advice of the Prime Minister appoint other Menteri (Ministers) from among the members of either House of Parliament”

The person picked need not necessarily be one who has an outright majority but can be one in the judgment of the King “who is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members.”

However, this person must eventually command the confidence of Parliament. Section 43 (4) says: “If the Prime Minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, then, unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament, the Prime Minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.”

While there are no constitutional precedents for the current situation in Malaysia, there are cases of this in other countries. The convention or usual practice in other countries is to give the chance to form a minority government to the group which has the highest support in terms of MPs.

According to Wikipedia, in the 2017 election in the UK, the Conservatives won the most seats but lost their majority in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Theresa May, formed a minority government, with 317 seats, on 9 June 2017.

On June 26 the same year, the Conservatives did a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party for a “confidence and supply” arrangement. For much of Boris Johnson’s prime ministership up until the 2019 general election, the government was a minority government.

In an earlier instance, according to Wikipedia, the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, formed a minority government for seven months after the elections of February 1974. That situation lasted until the prime minister called another election in October that year, following which the Labour Government obtained a tiny majority of three.

The following administration also became a minority government after the collapse of the pact between the Labour Party and the Liberal Party in 1977. The then British Prime Minister James Callaghan’s government fell in March 1979 as the result of a vote of no confidence which was carried by a single vote. – Feb 28, 2020

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