KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned less than 18 months ago Monday and became the country’s least ruling leader after admitting he lost majority support for the government.
Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin wrote on Instagram that “the cabinet offered the king our resignation” shortly after Muhyiddin left the palace after meeting the monarch. Deputy Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal also thanked Muhyiddin for his service and guidance in a Facebook message.
Muhyidddin’s departure will plunge the country into a new crisis amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic. Political leaders have already begun to crowd around the top, with deputy Ismail Sabri gathering support for Muhyiddin’s successor and keeping the government intact.
His resignation is due to growing public anger over his government’s poor handling of the pandemic. Malaysia has one of the highest infection rates and deaths per capita in the world, with daily cases surpassing 20,000 this month despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June to deal with the crisis.
Local media said the national police chief, the chairman of the electoral commission and the attorney general were also summoned to the palace on the Monday before Muhyiddin’s arrival. Muhyiddin, who chaired a cabinet meeting in his office the previous Monday, waved to reporters at the palace gate and left 40 minutes later. Muhyiddin is expected to hold a press conference later.
“Muhyiddin decided on borrowed time. His poor governance, his focus on survival policies and his unwillingness to acknowledge his mistakes have led to his downfall, ”said Bridget Welsh of the Malaysian University of Nottingham, an expert on Malaysian politics.
But his departure also plunged Malaysia into uncharted territory. “The focus now is for Malaysia to have a peaceful transition to a new government that can handle the crisis,” she said.
Muhyiddin’s government had a wafer-thin majority and had avoided leadership tests in parliament from the start. It finally fell when over a dozen MPs from the largest party in his alliance asked for their support for his government. Two United Malays National Organization ministers also resigned from cabinet ahead of Monday’s actions.
Under the Malaysian Constitution, the Prime Minister must resign if he loses a majority and the King can appoint a new leader who he believes has the confidence of Parliament.
Muhyiddin initially insisted that he still has the majority and would prove it in parliament next month. But in a U-turn on Friday, the prime minister sought the support of the opposition to bolster his government. He promised to call parliamentary elections by July next. He also offered concessions to the opposition leader, including proposals to limit the prime minister’s term, strengthen checks and balances, and give the opposition leader a high-level ministerial role, but his plea was rejected by all parties.
The king can appoint a new leader, but no coalition can currently claim a majority. A three-party alliance, the largest opposition bloc, has nominated its leader Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate for the office of prime minister. But the bloc has fewer than 90 legislators, fewer than the 111 required for a simple majority. That’s also less than the 100 lawmakers believed to support Muhyiddin.
Other contenders include Deputy Prime Minister Ismail, who is from UMNO, but it is unclear whether a deal can be struck and whether the king will accept it. Some opposition lawmakers also opposed such an agreement, saying the entire cabinet must resign because of the government’s negligence.
Local media said another possible candidate is Razaleigh Hamzah, an 84-year-old prince and former Treasury Secretary. Razaleigh, a UMNO legislator, is considered a neutral candidate who could unite the belligerent factions in the UMNO.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 96, has called for the formation of a national recovery council, led by professionals, to resolve the country’s economic and health crisis.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of Mahathir’s reformist government, which won the 2018 election. He withdrew his Bersatu party to join the UMNO-led coalition that Malaysia had led since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 over a multi-billion dollar financial scandal. Mahathir resigned abruptly to protest Bersatu’s plan to cooperate with the former government.
Muhyiddin’s government is unstable as UMNO was dissatisfied with playing second fiddle to its smaller party. Muhyiddin held parliament for months last year to shore up support. He suspended parliament again since January and ruled by ordinance without the consent of the law in a coronavirus emergency that ended on August 1st.
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