KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s king on Saturday appointed a new prime minister, ending a week of turmoil in the country and sidelining two figures who have dominated the country’s political landscape for years.
Muhyiddin Yassin replaces 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who quit less than a week ago in a shock move. He will be sworn in on Sunday.
Mahathir said days after his resignation that he would stand as prime minister on behalf of the former ruling coalition, which disintegrated after his departure. He teamed up with his on-off rival Anwar Ibrahim and even declared that he had the numbers for a majority.
But Comptroller of the Royal Family and Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said that King Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had decided that the figure who looked likely to command the most confidence of the majority of MPs was Yassin.
“Therefore, the king has selected Muhyiddin as the prime minister in line with Article 40(2)(a) and 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution,” Shamsuddin said.
Shamsuddin said that the king had ordered for the appointment not to be delayed and for a new government to be formed for the nation’s well-being. “He believes this is the best decision for everyone and hopes this puts an end to the political crisis at the moment,” the comptroller added.
Yassin is from the state of Johor and is little known outside of Malaysia. He was instrumental in founding the Malay-based Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) in 2016 alongside Mahathir.
He was dismissed as deputy prime minister in 2015 for criticizing then-Prime Minister Najib Razak amid the high-profile, billion-dollar 1MDB graft scandal.
Yassin must team up with other parties to get the majority he needs, but the inclusion of some groups could lead to a government with more conservative religious values.
Prof. James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at Tasmania University, said the appointment was “bad news” for the country.
“I am very surprised that he got the job,” Chin told Arab News. “One of the parties in this government is the Malaysian Islamic Party which is a fundamentalist Islamic party, while the United Malays National Organization will go along with a more Islamic government.”
He also said ethnic minorities would be the “bogeymen” of a Yassin-led government because of election losses suffered by some parties when they were part of a previous coalition.
“It will be tough on the Chinese community because they blame the Chinese for their loss in the previous general elections,” he said. “Muhyiddin is largely unknown outside of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations circles. I do not expect any major changes in Malaysia’s foreign policy.”
The king intervened to stabilize the government after Mahathir resigned, conducting personal interviews with parliamentarians at his palace in an unprecedented move to deduce who had the most support to become prime minister.
But constitutional lawyer Surendra Ananth said parliament could undo the palace’s decision to appoint Yassin.
“The king must have formed the view he (Yassin) had more votes than Mahathir,” he told Arab News. “However, a vote of no confidence can be moved against Yassin in parliament by the Alliance (Mahathir and Anwar’s coalition). If he doesn’t sustain the majority he can advise for a dissolution or resign as the prime minister.”