What can we expect in Parliament?

Anticipation: The nation’s eyes will be turned to Parliament as it meets for the first time since the declaration of Emergency was made on Jan 12. — Filepic/The Star

ON Friday, I obsessively clicked on the official portal of the Parliament of Malaysia online to check the MPs’ seating at tomorrow’s five-day special sitting.

On July 8, the Umno Supreme Council officially withdrew its support for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin with immediate effect. So I wanted to find out where the 38 Umno MPs would be seated – at the Perikatan Nasional government bench or the Opposition’s bloc? But the page showing seating arrangements was under maintenance.

I asked my Umno contacts where party MPs such as president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would be seated. They told me Umno MPs would be on the government’s side of the aisle.

It seems even though Umno has pulled its support for the Prime Minister, it is still supporting the Perikatan Nasional government and its MPs will be sitting with MPs from the ruling coalition.

True enough, yesterday the updated page showed that Zahid, Najib, Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Machang MP Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub would sit with PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu.

Even Ahmad Jazlan, who days before the declaration of emergency became the first Umno MP to announce that he was withdrawing support for the Perikatan government, will be seated with the government.

Looks like these Umno MPs not in favour of Muhyiddin will not have their knives out tomorrow. Umno contacts tell me that it is a strategic move.

The special sitting starting tomorrow will focus on briefings by the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers on the National Recovery Plan, progress on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination programme, economic aid packages, and the emergency proclamation. MPs can ask questions and present their views.

But there will be no voting.

As long as no voting is allowed in Parliament (such as on the state of emergency or Budget 2022), there is no point in the Tak Mesra Bunga (“not friendly with flower”, Ber-satu’s party symbol) faction in Umno showing their hand.

The Opposition, including the anti-Bersatu Umno MPs, will not be able to test Muhyiddin’s majority as it is unlikely that Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun will allow a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister.

The possibility of some sort of voting in Parliament this year will only come up when the Dewan Rakyat sits for 15 days from Sept 6 to 30 and for 32 days from Oct 25 to Dec 16. The Opposition and Tak Mesra Bunga Umno MPs will have to wait for those opportunities if they want to show that Muhyiddin has lost the confidence of the majority of MPs.

In a statement on July 8, the day Zahid made the big announcement about the Umno Supreme Council decision, Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun said Muhyiddin remained in the top job. At that moment, the government did not have any clear facts to show that the Prime Minister no longer commanded the confidence of the majority of MPs, Idrus said.

The Attorney General explained that according to Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution, the determination of whether or not an individual has the confidence of the majority should be made by the members of the Dewan Rakyat themselves, not based on statements by any political party.

How many MPs are with or against the Perikatan government?

Out of 220 MPs, 115 support Muhyiddin and 105 MPs are against him. If just, say, six Umno MPs were to cross the floor to the Opposition bench, the Prime Minister will lose his majority. But so far, Zahid and the other Umno MPs have not given any indication they will cross over.

Is it a matter of timing? Or is there a plot within a plot?

One theory is that Umno’s Tak Mesra Bunga faction used the threat to withdraw from the Perikatan government to get the Deputy Prime Minister post. Less than four hours before the Umno Supreme Council met virtually on July 7, the Prime Minister announced the promotion of Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob from senior minister to Deputy Prime Minister.

In politics, what you see is not what you get. Some politicians perform wayang kulit (shadow plays).

Politicians and political analysts have told me that after getting a Trojan horse into a position of power, the next possible Umno wayang kulit narrative could follow the Perak Menteri Besar crisis: In December last year, Umno pushed a confidence motion on then Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu. The Bersatu deputy president lost the vote and Umno took the Menteri Besar post (with Datuk Saarani Mohamad) while maintaining the Perikatan state government.

The situation in Parliament now is almost the same as it was in Perak before the December move. The state coalition government then comprised Umno, Bersatu, PAS and independent assemblymen with a Bersatu MP as MB; Perikatan now has the same composition (with additional Sabah and Sarawak parties) with a Bersatu man at its head. So... knives out or Trojan horse politics – what’s the next move in Parliament?

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