Malaysian PM delays confidence vote citing virus battle, Mahathir cries foul

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will not face a confidence vote on May 18 as scheduled, the speaker of parliament said on Wednesday after the government said the battle against the coronavirus was a priority.

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

His predecessor, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad who resigned in February after his coalition collapsed due to political wrangling, denounced the decision as a possible sign of Muhyiddin lacking a parliamentary majority.

People close to the ruling coalition, however, said they had a majority among the 222 elected members of parliament.

Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof last week approved a motion brought by Mahathir seeking a vote of no confidence in Muhyiddin’s leadership.

But, in a statement, the speaker said Muhyiddin later told him the government had decided to list only a single order of parliamentary business for the one-day sitting, the opening address by the king, “as the COVID-19 pandemic has not been fully cleared”.

Malaysia has so far reported 6,779 coronavirus patients, with 111 dead.

The Southeast Asian country has not held any parliamentary session this year.

“Parliament is not allowed to convene, which means Muhyiddin does not have majority support,” Mahathir, once the world’s oldest head of government, said in a video message on Facebook.

“It looks like there is an attempt to block me from even speaking as a member of parliament.”

The next session of parliament has been set for July 13 to Aug. 27 but no date has been given for a confidence vote.

A spokesman for the prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Muhyiddin, who served as the home minister under Mahathir, was unexpectedly sworn in on March 1 as the head of a government formed with the support of a corruption-ridden party that was defeated by a multi-ethnic coalition in the last general election in 2018.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan and Mei Mei Chu; additonal reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich