KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — Seventeen-and-a-half months since Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as prime minister, Malaysia finds itself in the same political impasse it was mired in then.
The calculators are in hand again, the horse-trading is already in full swing, as ordinary Malaysians are again subjected to undesired ringside seats to politicians searching for the magic number of MPs to guarantee their team takes the reins of power.
All this is happening amid unverified reports that Muhyiddin has already decided to quit as prime minister by tomorrow.
Muhyiddin was the ultimate winner after the “Sheraton Move” last year which saw his Bersatu pull out from the 22-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and form a new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.
But he finds himself in the opposite position now, after at least 15 Umno MPs pulled their support for his government.
So what happens now? The answer to that question can probably be gleaned from archived media coverage of what happened last year.
The same players are again making a play to prove to the King their respective coalitions have the numbers to form a new government.
In the case of Muhyiddin, if he has not actually resigned, he is also still in the race if he can put together a working majority to continue his administration.
However, the prime minister’s gambit of inviting the Opposition to the table on Friday to support his government in return for a number of structural reforms was immediately rejected.
Umno, or at least the faction led by its president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, appears to be in the driving seat for now in the race to at least 111 seats, the simple majority needed to form the next government.
This is on the assumption of course that all 100 MPs supporting the current PN government fall in line behind Zahid’s 15 MPs. That would give a new government, likely led by Umno, 115 MPs.
But will Muhyiddin’s Bersatu MPs, which include Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s bloc of 11, automatically back an Umno government when it has publicly labelled the latter’s leaders kleptocrats?
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his PH coalition are of course in the race as well.
PH has 88 MPs, and combined with other Opposition parties and Independents, the numbers come up to only 105.
The first hurdle Anwar would need to get over is to persuade non-PH Opposition MPs to back him.
His second hurdle would be to get at least another six MPs to support him to be the next prime minister.
If the scenarios appear familiar, it is obviously because they are almost identical to what happened in the last week of February last year.
The different political coalitions will of course be meeting today in an attempt to hammer out some sort of deal.
No one expects a quick resolution to the question of which team will lead Malaysia.
It would appear, according to public statements at least, that no political leader wants a general election to be called in the middle of a pandemic.
The general consensus seems to be that the earliest any election should be called is some time in the middle of next year when hopefully the country would have fully emerged from pandemic restrictions.
But ultimately, the King may have no choice but to agree to dissolve Parliament sooner rather than later if the politicians find that simple majority elusive.