Malaysian PM Resigns After Turbulent 17 Months In Office

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin waves as he arives at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on August 16, 2021, as he was expected to quit after just 17 months in office.
Arif KARTONO / AFP

 

Malaysia’s prime minister resigned and his government collapsed Monday after just 17 months in office, throwing the country into fresh political turmoil as it battles a serious coronavirus outbreak.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s tumultuous period in office came to an end after allies withdrew support, and he becomes the shortest-serving premier in Malaysian history.

With an election unlikely and no obvious successor on the horizon, Malaysia is set for a period of intense political horse-trading before a workable coalition takes shape.

After submitting his resignation to the king, the 74-year-old took a parting shot at enemies within his coalition.

“I could have taken the easy way out by casting aside my principles to remain as prime minister — but that is not my choice,” he said in a televised address.

“I will never work with kleptocrats.”

He has claimed that several MPs who pulled support from his coalition — including scandal-plagued ex-leader Najib Razak — had been angered that he refused to get corruption cases against them dropped.

The national palace confirmed the monarch, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah — who formally appoints the premier — had accepted Muhyiddin’s resignation.

It said in a statement Muhyiddin would serve as a caretaker prime minister until a replacement is found but the monarch was not in favour of polls now due to the outbreak.

Muhyiddin came to power in March last year without an election at the head of a scandal-plagued coalition following the collapse of a two-year-old, reformist government led by Mahathir Mohamad, a political heavyweight in his nineties.

But his government faced turmoil from day one — his majority in parliament was in doubt, its legitimacy was constantly questioned, and he faced a constant challenge from opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim.

Criticism over virus response

 

Members of the media stand outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on August 16, 2021, as Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was expected to quit after just 17 months in office.
Arif KARTONO / AFP

 

The demise of his government extends a period of political drama for the multi-ethnic nation of 32 million.

After independence from Britain in 1957, Malaysia was ruled for over six decades by a coalition dominated by the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

But corruption scandals, unpopular race-based policies and increasingly authoritarian rule prompted weary voters to boot the coalition and its leader Najib out of power at 2018 polls.

The victory of Mahathir’s opposition alliance fuelled hopes for a new era, but it collapsed amid bitter infighting.

As well as questions over its legitimacy, Muhyiddin’s government faced mounting criticism over its failure to keep the virus under control — officials have now reported over 1.1 million cases and 12,000 deaths.

In January, he persuaded the king to declare Malaysia’s first nationwide state of emergency for over half a century, ostensibly to fight the pandemic.

But parliament was also suspended for months, leading to criticism that Muhyiddin was using the crisis to avoid a no-confidence vote.

Muhyiddin’s position finally became untenable after a group of once allied MPs withdrew support, depriving him of a parliamentary majority turned against him.

He made his last bid to stay in power on Friday, appealing to opposition MPs to back him in a no-confidence vote — but his offer was rejected.

There are a number of possibilities for the next government — the remnants of Muhyiddin’s government could try to form a coalition, while the opposition will also take a run at power — but it is wide open.

“His replacement is anybody’s guess,” said Oh Ei Sun, an analyst at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

-AFP

Malaysia To Ban Citizens From Travel Abroad, Foreign Arrivals – PM

This handout from Malaysia’s Department of Information taken and released on March 1, 2020 shows Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin signing documents after taking the oath as the country’s new leader at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur. FAMER ROHENI / Malaysia’s Department of Information / AFP.

 

Malaysia will ban its citizens from travelling overseas and foreigners from entering the country in drastic measures announced by the prime minister Monday aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

Schools will also be closed under the rules that will be in place for two weeks from Wednesday, Muhyiddin Yassin said.

Large gatherings will be banned while shops and places of worship will be shuttered in the country, which has 566 virus cases according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the highest number in Southeast Asia.

Essential services such as supermarkets and banks will remain open.

“I am aware that you may feel that this action taken by the government will create difficulties in running your daily lives,” Muhyiddin said in a late-night television address.

“However, this action must be taken by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak which is likely to take the lives of people in this country.”

Malaysia has so far recorded no fatalities from the virus.

READ ALSO: Global Airlines Slash Almost All Flights As Coronavirus Spreads

Many of the country’s infections have been linked to a global Islamic event held last month and attended by almost 20,000 people.

Authorities said participants at the gathering from February 27 to March 1 came from Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Around 14,500 of the participants were Malaysian.

The new measures bar foreigners from the country, but citizens returning to Malaysia will have to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We can’t wait any longer until things get worse,” said Muhyiddin, who was sworn in only on March 1 after taking power without an election, and with support from a scandal-tainted party.

“We have seen some countries take drastic steps to control the spread of the outbreak like China, which has seen a significant decline in COVID-19 infection cases.”

AFP

New Malaysia PM Sworn In Amid Crisis, Mahathir Fights On

This handout from Malaysia’s Department of Information taken and released on March 1, 2020 shows Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin signing documents after taking the oath as the country’s new leader at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur. FAMER ROHENI / Malaysia’s Department of Information / AFP

 

A staunch Muslim nationalist backed by a scandal-mired party was sworn in as Malaysia’s premier Sunday after a reformist government’s collapse, but ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 94, slammed the move as illegal.

The Southeast Asian nation was plunged into turmoil after Mahathir’s “Pact of Hope” alliance, which stormed to a historic victory in 2018, collapsed amid bitter infighting.

Mahathir, who was the world’s oldest leader, initially quit as premier but then sought to return.

He lost in a power struggle however to little-known Muhyiddin Yassin, who heads a coalition dominated by the multi-ethnic country’s Muslim majority and has faced criticism for controversial remarks about race.

The king’s decision Saturday to pick Muhyiddin as premier was greeted with shock as Mahathir’s allies claimed to have enough support, and it sparked widespread anger that the democratically elected government had been ejected.

Muhyiddin’s coalition includes the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party of disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, as well as a hardline group that wants tougher Islamic laws.

READ ALSO: Turmoil In Malaysia As Prime Minister Resigns

UMNO was the corruption-riddled lynchpin of a coalition thrown out at the 2018 elections as allegations swirled that Najib and his cronies looted billions of dollars from state fund 1MDB. Najib is now on trial for corruption.

Just before Muhyiddin’s inauguration, Mahathir accused him of betrayal and said he would seek a parliament vote challenging the new premier’s support — signalling the political crisis is far from over.

“This is a very strange thing … losers will form the government, the winners will be in the opposition,” he said.

“The rule of law no longer applies.”

A candidate for prime minister must prove to the king, who appoints the position, that he has the backing of at least 112 MPs. Mahathir claims to have that number and believes Muhyiddin does not.

Mahathir’s alliance said parliament should be allowed to re-convene on March 9, as it is scheduled to do, as speculation grows the new government might seek a delay.

Muhyiddin’s inauguration went ahead Sunday morning at the national palace, although Mahathir’s alliance boycotted it.

– ‘Betrayal’ –

Meanwhile public anger is growing at the ejection of the reformist alliance, with the hashtag “NotMyPM” trending on Twitter and more than 130,000 people signing a petition that said the move is a “betrayal” of voters’ choice at the 2018 poll.

Mahathir — who served a first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003 before staging a comeback two years ago — also raised concerns that ongoing court cases against Najib related to the 1MDB scandal could be affected by the change of government.

Mahathir came out of retirement aged 92 to take on his one-time protege Najib over the controversy, and has pledged to bring him to justice.

Analysts said Muhyiddin’s government was in a weak position as it was not clear whether he had a parliamentary majority, and he was a member of a tiny party without a strong support base.

He was a senior UMNO figure for decades before being sacked from the party by Najib in 2015 after criticising the handling of the 1MDB scandal, and then allied with Mahathir to oust them at the last elections.

In a volte-face, he joined hands last week with UMNO in his quest for the premiership — although he is not a member.

In addition, he lacks “the domestic legitimacy or the international legitimacy the previous government had”, Bridget Welsh, an analyst from the University of Nottingham, told AFP.

Muhyiddin once controversially described himself as “Malay first” and Malaysian second, and there are concerns race and religious relations could worsen under his Muslim-dominated coalition.

About 60 percent of Malaysia’s population are ethnic Malay Muslims and the country is also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities.

The “Pact of Hope” alliance had been riven by infighting between factions over who should succeed Mahathir, who had designated Anwar Ibrahim as his successor.

The political crisis began a week ago when a group of ruling coalition lawmakers joined forces with opposition parties in a bid to form a new government and push out Anwar.

In a week of fast-moving twists and turns, Mahathir and Anwar — who have a long and stormy history — briefly locked horns in a fight for the leadership.

They then joined forces again in an 11th-hour bid to stop Muhyiddin, but it proved too little, too late.

AFP