Malaysian PM quits after turbulent 17 months in office

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin waves as he arrives at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on August 16, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia— 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.اضافة اعلان

Muhyiddin Yassin's tumultuous time in power came to an end after key allies withdrew support, and he becomes the shortest-serving premier in Malaysian history.

With an election unlikely due to the pandemic and no obvious successor, the country is set for a period of intense political horse-trading before a new government takes shape.

After Muhiyddin resigned along with his entire cabinet, the outgoing premier took a parting shot at enemies within his crisis-wracked 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," the 74-year-old said in a televised address.

"I will never work with kleptocrats."

He has claimed that several MPs who pulled support from him — among them 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, had accepted Muhyiddin's resignation. 

But it said Muhyiddin would serve as a caretaker prime minister until a replacement is found and the monarch was not in favor of polls now due to the outbreak.

This leaves it to the king, who appoints the country's prime minister, to pick the next leader based on whom he believes commands majority support in parliament. 

Efforts to form a new government looked set to start Tuesday, with representatives from major parties summoned to meet the monarch, news portal Malaysiakini reported. 

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

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 fueled 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, while a last-ditch bid to get the opposition to back him failed.

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. 

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