Malaysian PM Muhyiddin resigns as political crisis escalates

Malaysia’s Muhyiddin Yassin stepped down as prime minister

Whoever takes Muhyiddin’s place will inherit an unresolved political crisis, in addition to a worsening public health emergency.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stepped down on Monday after trying – and failing – to seek opposition backing to remain in power. While this brings an end to his beleaguered premiership, it adds even more chaos to the country’s politics as party leaders scramble to form the next government.

Muhyiddin will not leave office immediately. He will stay on as caretaker prime minister until his successor is selected. That person will then serve as premier until the next general election takes place within two years.

“I can take the easy route and sacrifice my principles to remain as prime minister. But that is not my choice. I will not compromise with kleptocrats or interfere with the freedom of the judiciary, just to stay in power,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address to the nation about an hour after he submitted his resignation. “I’ve tried to come up with ideas to save this administration. But they didn’t work, as some quarters would rather grab power than prioritize the lives of the people.”

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who appointed Muhyiddin as prime minister after a week-long political crisis 17 months ago, is expected to use his constitutional power once again to select Muhyiddin’s replacement. This should be from among members of parliament who he thinks can command a majority, which Muhyiddin claims no one else has.

The 74-year-old admitted for the first time on Friday that he did not have majority support and made a last-ditch attempt to win over opposition lawmakers by promising political and electoral reforms in exchange for support. But that gambit failed and the offer was rejected unanimously.

Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Muhyiddin’s key ally, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), denounced the prime minister’s offers as “open bribery” which left Muhyiddin with no other choice other than to step down.

A slew of candidates is already jockeying to take over and become the next prime minister, with Deputy Premier Ismail Sabri Yaakob emerging as a frontrunner for the top post. The changes to the leadership hierarchy of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government will likely see several cabinet members, in particular Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, retain their positions.

“A short sighted and self-serving government would be ruthlessly punished by voters in the next election,” the group warned in a statement.

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