Malaysia's Muhyiddin to stay on as caretaker PM until successor is appointed

KUALA LUMPUR – Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will stay on as Malaysia’s prime minister in a caretaker capacity, the National Palace said in a statement, after the King accepted the leader’s resignation on Monday (Aug 16) following an audience at the Palace. 

Mr Muhyiddin will perform the prime minister’s duties until his successor is appointed.

In the statement, Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, also added that holding general elections in the near future “is not the best option” due to the welfare and security of the people.

In a televised address on Monday, Mr Muhyiddin said: “I hope a new government can be appointed swiftly so that the administration will not be disturbed. 

“You don’t have to worry. My Cabinet has ordered more than enough vaccines for all of you, and if the vaccination programme goes well, all of you will get vaccinated by the end of October, God willing.”

Having admitted to losing his majority in Parliament, he said: “I will not conspire with kleptocrats, or interfere with the judiciary or turn my back on the Constitution to stay in power.”

He added: “I hope the new government which takes over the administration of this country will take good care of all of you, because it is the only thing I care about.”

He also reiterated his confidence that Malaysia will exit this pandemic crisis “very soon”.

Earlier on Monday, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin also announced the Cabinet’s resignation on his Instagram account after the last Cabinet meeting concluded earlier this morning.

“Thank you for the opportunity to, once again, serve the nation. May God bless Malaysia,” Mr Khairy said.

The latest turn of events draws the curtains on Mr Muhyiddin’s tumultuous 18-month rule, after a fortnight-long assault on his leadership which began when 11 Umno MPs withdrew their support for him on Aug 3.

But his ouster looks set to throw the nation into deeper uncertainty.

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Despite a weekend of endless meetings and proposals across the political divide, there is still no clear candidate to succeed the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president.

While The Straits Times understands that Mr Muhyiddin will still advise Sultan Abdullah that his Perikatan Nasional (PN) remains the largest bloc in Parliament, with 100 out of the 220 sitting MPs, the Constitution does not provide for a minority government.

Mr Muhyiddin will stay on in a caretaker capacity while the monarch determines who, among a clutch of hopefuls, can command the majority of the 222-strong legislature, where two seats are currently vacant.

While opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) has 88 MPs, most lawmakers outside of the coalition are either opposed to his leadership or bound by Umno’s resolution earlier this year to not team up with him or the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the largest component in PH.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (centre) with his Cabinet Ministers at the Perdana Putra building in Putrajaya on Aug 16, 2021. PHOTO: UNIT FOTOGRAFI, JABATAN PENERANGAN MALAYSIA/FACEBOOK

Out of the 120 lawmakers opposed to Mr Muhyiddin’s leadership, 15 are in Umno president Zahid Hamidi’s camp and another 17 in various parties largely loyal to former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob has tried to convince his PN colleagues to back him for a smooth transition, with sources indicating he will offer his existing role of deputy prime minister to Bersatu. If he is able to convince Zahid’s camp, then its majority will be restored as a government of 115 MPs.

But it appears that Zahid is refusing to endorse a potential challenger for the party leadership.

Malaysian Indian Congress president Vigneswaran Sanasee, whose party is part of the Barisan Nasional coalition led by Umno, has called on Zahid to support Datuk Seri Ismail as “only Ismail Sabri has got the numbers”.

“There’s no majority unless you get another 200 MPs coming from Mars,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.

Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left) and Malaysia’s longest-serving lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Nonetheless, Malaysia’s longest-serving lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is also being weighed up as an alternative, as the Umno stalwart is seen as a compromise between the current government and opposition benches.

Umno youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki has called for a “non-controversial, non-threatening” leader with no long-term aim of entrenching themselves to lead a unity government with a “War Cabinet” that will call for polls once herd immunity from Covid-19 is reached.

This is widely seen as backing for former finance minister Razaleigh, 84, as the Kelantan Prince is not seen as able to take over Umno from its present leadership.

An option open to the King is to dissolve Parliament, but with polls required within 60 days, this would force a nation in the throes of its deadliest Covid-19 wave to head to the ballot and risk a repeat of the surge after the Sabah state election a year ago from which Malaysia has never fully recovered.

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