Political turmoil grips the Malaysian state of Melaka again after defections from ruling ranks

KUALA LUMPUR – The president of Malaysia’s ruling party Umno on Monday (Oct 4) called for a state election in Melaka after the Chief Minister lost his majority in the legislative assembly.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said voters should decide on the make-up of a new state government after four assemblymen from the ruling alliance pulled their support for Chief Minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali, who is from Umno.

The move by the four assemblymen – two of whom were Umno members and a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) legislator as well as another independent – deprived Mr Sulaiman of his majority in the 28-seat state assembly.

The rebels were led by Datuk Seri Idris Haron, an Umno leader who was a former chief minister in the state.

Mr Sulaiman’s Perikatan Nasional alliance comprised 17 legislators while the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) bloc had 10. If the current state government were to fall, it would be the second time in two years that this has occurred.

Defections by four assemblymen caused the previous PH administration to collapse in March 2020, days after the PH-led federal administration was ousted due to mass defections. PH – with Bersatu as one of its members then – had narrowly won the 2018 state legislative election, gaining 15 seats.

Mr Idris on Monday appeared at a press conference with the opposition PH legislators who demanded the chief minister’s resignation and said they were seeking a meeting with the state’s governor Ali Rustam to discuss the next steps.

They did not explicitly state that they wanted to form a state government, but said that an election was not the best option currently as Malaysia was still in the midst of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysiakini reported that Mr Idris was likely to make a comeback as chief minister should the group of legislators he leads join hands with PH to form a new state government. Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin, a PH MP from Melaka, was quoted as saying on Monday that he was “confident” more assemblymen would join them in forming a new government.

Mr Zahid however said that he was in favour of a poll, adding that he was prepared to lose a state administration led by his party.

“I think it is better to have new state elections so that the Melaka state assembly will be dissolved and we can return the mandate to the people to choose which is the best government for the state,” Mr Zahid said during the debate of the 12th Malaysia Plan in Parliament on Monday.

The political situation in Melaka has been tense over the past few days with reports claiming that Mr Sulaiman could move to dissolve the state assembly and call for elections if attempts to unseat his government continued.

The Star on Monday said that the chief minister had already expressed his intention to dissolve the state assembly to Tun Ali, the governor.

If the state assembly is dissolved, this would mean the second legislative election in Malaysia amid the Covid-19 pandemic, after the poll in Sabah – triggered under similar circumstances – just over a year ago.

The Sabah election sparked a Covid-19 wave that undid Malaysia’s initial success in containing the pandemic, and subsequently made 2021 the deadliest year for the country with multiple lockdowns.

The Melaka political crisis is an indication that political jostling has not abated even after Umno regained the reins at the federal level in August with Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob installed as the ninth Prime Minister, succeeding Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

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