Umno ministers have earned praise for holding on to their Cabinet posts despite pressure from their party to quit the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.
At least three ministers from Umno are tasked with heading portfolios that are critical in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Apart from Dr Adham Baba as the health minister, Umno’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Khairy Jamaluddin also hold portfolios on Covid-19 security measures and the massive vaccination programme respectively.
Following calls from top Umno leaders for the party to quit the administration, many of the ministers had been under pressure to resign from their posts in order to avoid being accused of going against their party bosses.
A recent meeting with Muhyiddin Yassin however concluded with the ministers opting to stay in their posts despite the rhetoric against the prime minister during the Umno general assembly last week.
Political scientist Chandra Muzaffar said the decision by Umno ministers to remain in their Cabinet positions was constitutionally right.
“The reality is that it is not the party’s wishes that count, it is the prime minister’s.”
“In a democratic set-up like ours, being a minister is the full prerogative of the prime minister. If he has decided that they should remain, then they remain. You do not have to follow the party leader because these appointments are made by the prime minister,” he told MalaysiaNow.
He said likewise, the prime minister has full power to appoint anyone to the Cabinet, even from among those without any political party.
“The reality is that it is not the party’s wishes that count, it is the prime minister’s,” he said, adding that many of the ministers hold positions with critical roles to play in the current economic crisis.
Malay politics observer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff agreed that any resignation from the Cabinet in order to heed the wishes of the Umno leadership would disrupt the focus on fighting Covid-19 and the related financial battles.
He added that Muhyiddin was not playing the politician in urging Umno ministers to stay put.
“If political calculation was on the prime minister’s mind, he would have asked these ministers to resign so that he could appoint MPs from Bersatu or other PN component parties as replacements,” he said.
Kamarul said the prime minister by replacing them would then mobilise support for his PN bloc to show that he was bent on running the government.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Shamsul Amri Baharuddin contrasted the Umno ministers’ stand with that of their party leadership.
“These ministers reject the selfishness of the Umno leaders who are tainted,” he said, adding that the Umno Supreme Council, made up of “tainted leaders”, is too weak for its decision to hold sway.
Shamsul said there was a “silent rebellion” underway against the Umno leadership.
Academic Sivamurugan Pandian said the Umno ministers’ decision would not cause them to be seen as turning their backs on their own party.
“The (Umno) grassroots will praise their act of not mixing government and party affairs,” Sivamurugan, from Unisersiti Sains Malaysia, told MalaysiaNow.