Sunday, February 28, 2021

‘Deputy PM’ rumour resurfaces as Umno hawks continue threat to quit govt

It is understood that there is no truth to fresh rumours of an Umno minister to be appointed as deputy prime minister.

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The group demanding that Umno be given a more prominent role in the government has renewed a call for a Cabinet member from the Malay party to be appointed as deputy prime minister, days after a threat to quit the administration floundered, MalaysiaNow has learnt.

The new campaign is being played out through a series of social media posts as well as WhatsApp messages which made the rounds over the weekend.

A senior source in Putrajaya believes that the rumour has been circulated in the hope of ramping up support for the months-old demand by hawks in Umno ahead of the party’s general assembly late this month.

The source however rubbished the reports, saying the same narrative has repeatedly resurfaced since the failure of party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s attempt to get the number two post for himself.

“As in the past, the prime minister and the Cabinet are clear on one thing: any form of reshuffle is not a priority as the government tries to win this war,” the source told MalaysiaNow, referring to the 11-month battle against Covid-19 which has so far claimed more than 550 lives.

Talk of filling the DPM’s post becomes a topic of speculation each time there is a change of prime minister.

A similar rumour surfaced in the run-up to the tabling of the 2021 budget, where it was claimed that Muhyiddin would appoint a DPM from Umno as a form of concession.

Since last week, several social media and WhatsApp messages seen by MalaysiaNow have claimed that Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein or Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be appointed as DPM.

A Chinese daily also made similar claims, which were repeated by a Malay tabloid.

Among others, the new rumour claims that Muhyiddin has been pressured to give the post to Umno, and is seeking to ease that pressure as he goes to seek treatment in Singapore.

But a source said both claims are “as far from the truth as Zahid is from becoming DPM”.

He said the prime minister had been been fully occupied in recent days with travelling to some of the worst-affected flood zones, including in Pahang where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah also spent time getting a first-hand look at the situation in his home state.

It is also learnt that Muhyiddin will address the nation today, in what is believed to be connected to the continued spike in number of Covid-19 infections and casualties.

The prime minister will also meet his Cabinet members today about the latest measures to fight the Covid-19 battle, although several ministers are still under home quarantine.

Zahid alongside former leader Najib Razak are part of a group of Umno hawks who have been threatening to take their party out of the Perikatan Nasional government in the hope of forcing snap polls, despite warnings by health experts against holding a pandemic season general election.

Last year, MalaysiaNow revealed that both leaders wrote to the palace to express support for Anwar Ibrahim in the PKR leader’s failed bid to topple Muhyiddin.

Their letter was confirmed by Annuar Musa, who was removed as the Barisan Nasional secretary-general last week for opposing Zahid’s plan to switch loyalties to Anwar.

In late October last year, MalaysiaNow revealed details of a tense private exchange between Zahid and Muhyiddin at the latter’s residence in Bukit Damansara, where Zahid made clear his demand for the DPM’s post.

In the meeting on Oct 17, also attended by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, Muhyiddin confronted Zahid with the letter he wrote in support of Anwar, and questioned him about his real intentions.

“Zahid accused the prime minister of breaking his promise,” an insider with knowledge of the meeting had told MalaysiaNow.

“Muhyiddin then said he had never promised anything. Zahid said that initially, when Umno supported Bersatu to form the government, it was for Dr Mahathir Mohamad to become the PM, not Muhyiddin.

“Muhyiddin pressed Zahid again about his unhappiness. Zahid replied that as president of Umno, he should have been appointed the deputy prime minister.”

Zahid, who is facing 47 corruption charges linked to a charity foundation, also said that he was “embarrassed to tell but there are many things that are not right”.

Muhyiddin then told Zahid that he had no say in court matters, but added that “as a friend”, he would for pray Zahid’s acquittal.

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