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Malaysia teeters towards another political convulsion

SINGAPORE – With a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and threats from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to withdraw from his ruling alliance, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s hold on power has never been so precarious.

Though a narrow win for Muhyiddin’s informal Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) alliance at bellwether state elections in Sabah on September 26 somewhat boosted his political clout, a subsequent internal tiff over the grouping’s chief ministerial candidate now threatens to collapse his Perikatan Nasional (PN) governing coalition.

UMNO and Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) were in a deadlock over who should be appointed as Sabah’s next leader, with UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisting that candidate come from his party. The position was unexpectedly conceded to Muhyiddin’s preferred choice, Hajiji Mohd Noor, earlier this week.

While the 73-year-old premier described the outcome as reflecting consensus within GRS, Zahid claimed that UMNO’s candidate had been pressured from within into accepting a compromise that was “too costly” a concession.

Leading figures within UMNO and others are now pressuring Zahid to act divisively by withdrawing support for PN. UMNO, which controls 39 seats, constitutes the largest single bloc aligned with the PN government, which it currently supports only in matters of confidence and supply. PN has just 113 lawmakers in total, with Bersatu filling 31 seats.