Malaysia's Muhyiddin sworn in as Mahathir calls on parliament vote to defy support base

Malaysia's Muhyiddin sworn in as Mahathir calls on parliament vote to defy support base
Muhyiddin took the oath of office following the collapse of the former ruling coalition, but Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday urged parliament to defy his appointment.
3 min read
01 March, 2020
Mahathir said Sunday that the palace has refused to listen to him [Getty]
Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad on Sunday called for an urgent parliament sitting to contest the appointment of a Muhyiddin Yassin as the country's next prime minister.

Fears are growing that a new Malay-majority coalition could emerge, further spliting the nation, following the collapse of Mahathir Mohamad's multiracial reformist alliance.

Muhyiddin Yassin, a seasoned politician who once famously quipped that he is Malay first and Malaysian second, was sworn in at the palace Sunday.

Yassin was quickly endorsed by several opposition parties, including the corruption-tainted United Malays National Organisation, which was ousted by Mahathir's Alliance of Hope in a historic vote in 2018.

Muhyiddin, 72, pulled his Bersatu party out of the alliance on Monday, triggering its collapse.

Mahathir resigned as prime minister in protest of the plan that would bring UMNO back to power.

After a week of political turmoil, the king on Saturday said he believed Muhyiddin had the majority support of lawmakers and named him the new leader.

Mahathir's camp strongly contested that assertion, saying the 94-year-old two-time prime minister has the backing of 114 lawmakers to return as premier for a third time, surpassing the 112 votes needed for a simple majority.

Mahathir said on Sunday that the palace has refused to listen to him. 

He called for an urgent sitting of the lower house of parliament to test Muhyiddin's claim of majority support, warning that if this was delayed, his supporters could be induced to support the government of the day.

"People on our side may be offered to be ministers. They may be offered other things," he said.

"We feel we have 114 but after the actions taken by these very rich and very powerful people, we may not have the 114," he said. "So the test of the pudding is in the eating; hold the parliament sitting now."

The house is only due to resume March 9.

Mahathir said he felt betrayed by Muhyiddin's move and warned that UMNO leaders including ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing trial for corruption charges, may get off the hook.

"The court may find it embarrassing to take action against the government. We have seen this happen before during Najib's time when he was able to manipulate the court, change the charges and to a certain extent, influence the decision of the court. I believe if the new government is installed now with Najib in it, this is what is going to happen," he said.

Muhyiddin and Mahathir were former members of UMNO who formed Bersatu in 2016 amid anger over a massive graft scandal involving the 1MDB state investment fund.

Muhyiddin is a longtime politician who served in various ministries during Mahathir's first stint as premier for 22 years until 2003.

He was appointed as deputy prime minister when Najib took power in 2009 but sacked in 2015 after he criticized Najib´s handling of the 1MDB scandal.

Bersatu teamed up with the Alliance of Hope with a pact that Mahathir would eventually hand over power to former rival Anwar Ibrahim.

Muhyiddin was the former home minister under the short-lived alliance but only took up the post months later following treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Muhyiddin's new government, dubbed the National Alliance, has stoked fears of increasing Islamisation as it will bring to power a fundamentalist Islamic party with strong rural support that espouses strict Islamic laws.

Ethnic Malays account for 60 percent of Malaysia's 32 million
people, which includes sizable minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians.

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