KUALA LUMPUR: Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s new prime minister on Sunday, replacing 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad after an intense week of political wrangling in the country.
It follows Mahathir’s unexpected resignation from top office last week, leading the king to step in to ensure stability.
Yassin, who is the head of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu), was administered the oath of office by the king on Sunday, in an appointment described by Mahathir as “illegal and a betrayal.”
At the Bersatu meeting in Putrajaya on Sunday, Mahathir told party supporters that Yassin was a “traitor” for his willingness to work with disgraced former prime minister, Najib Razak, who is embroiled in the billion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal.
The entire conversation was live streamed on the National Trust Party’s (Amanah) official Facebook page.
“Muhyiddin was willing to help because he wanted to be prime minister,” Mahathir said, vowing to seek a vote in parliament to challenge Yassin’s support.
The trouble began when Mahathir returned to power two years ago in a coalition with his old rival, Anwar Ibrahim, and ousted Razak in a surprise victory.
The move, however, backfired with Anwar deciding to run for prime minister.
Supporters from the Alliance of Hope (Alliance) and the public are still grappling with the new reality, with some activists and protesters holding a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur to express their dissatisfaction.
At the Peoples Justice Party (PKR) headquarters on Sunday, a couple of politicians were heckled by a group of PKR supporters for siding with factions that colluded with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS).
Yassin, 72, will face a huge challenge as he enters office in Putrajaya on Monday.
Though a veteran politician, the Alliance would push back harder knowing that their opportunity to govern was short-lived.
Adip Zalkapli, director of Bower Group Asia, told Arab News: “The next general election will likely be held in less than three years from today; the Alliance would do well as they will learn from their mistakes and make early preparation for the polls.”
“The best thing for the National Front Coalition (BN) and Bersatu is for them to be magnanimous in their victory and retain as much as possible positive elements left behind by the Alliance’s administration,” he said.
The new premier is expected to consolidate power in the government with UMNO and PAS.
Analysts worry that this would have a deep impact on the Southeast Asian country, which prides itself on being a cultural melting pot, with 40 percent of its population from ethnic minorities.
“This may end the promise by the Alliance of a multiracial, multireligious malaysia,” Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute of Tasmania University, said, adding that both UMNO and PAS “do not believe this and will push the country toward a Malay-Islamic supremacy.”
He said that PAS and UMNO would demand power within the Cabinet, since “the reality is that PAS and UMNO combo have the biggest bloc in new government.”
Chin said that the Islamic party will push for more conservative Islamic values in the government’s policies, and for moral-based laws, especially against women, and those they deem “liberals.”
“UMNO will go along as they think it’s a winning formula for the next general election,” he said.
As the country grapples with the global coronavirus outbreak and a sluggish economy, analysts said that Malaysia will face economic instability as it moves ahead.
“It will be hard as the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and foreign visitors would be afraid of PAS’s Islamic hard-line policy,” Chin said.
“There is still market instability,” Dr. Madeline Berma, fellow at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, said, adding that the market will choose to “wait-and-see until after parliament convenes.”