After months of public spats, the largest party in Malaysia's ruling coalition confirmed Thursday it will not work with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's party Bersatu in the coming election.
The move is a blow to Muhyiddin as he is widely expected to call for a national election after August when the country's COVID-19 state of emergency is scheduled to be lifted.
Ahmad Maslan, secretary general of the United Malays National Organization, said in a statement, top leadership in the party decided in a meeting on Feb. 19 to part ways with Bersatu but will continue to support the government until the parliament is dissolved.
With the UMNO-Bersatu divorce, a multi-corner fight in the coming election is inevitable, and that could give the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim the upper hand.
A state of emergency was declared on Jan. 12 after the coronavirus outbreak was deemed to have reached a "critical level." The first nationwide emergency in 51 years is set to last until Aug. 1 or earlier, depending on how fast the virus can be contained in the country.
In a televised address on Monday to mark his government's first anniversary, Muhyiddin promised to call for a national election once the pandemic is contained.
Muhyiddin came to power after political desertion upended former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government last year.
Mahathir resigned after several lawmakers from his ruling coalition, including Muhyiddin, joined forces with UMNO, leading to the collapse of his barely two-year-old government.
UMNO was once the dominant party that had led the country since independence in 1957. But Mahathir and his ragtag coalition stunningly defeated the party in the 2018 election.