KUALA LUMPUR - The King has confirmed on Friday (Aug 20) that Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be the ninth prime minister after a brief meeting with Malaysia's other state rulers.
Minutes after the "special discussion" concluded before 4.30pm, the palace issued a statement saying Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah "has consented to appoint Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri" and will swear him in at 2.30pm on Saturday.
The absence of the sovereigns of Johor, Perlis and Kelantan at the 2.30pm meeting convened by the King has set tongues wagging, as speculation grows over how the royals might influence the establishment of a new government after Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's resignation on Monday.
It is not known if the three rulers attended the meeting remotely via video conference.
"With 114 MPs, we understand Ismail Sabri has the majority," Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan told reporters after his audience with the King.
However, a potential flashpoint could be a wish from some of the monarchs to see a unity government among parties across the political divide, sources in the know have told The Straits Times.
This is ostensibly to avoid a repeat of the instability that had plagued the Perikatan Nasional government led by Mr Muhyiddin until he resigned on Monday, after less than 18 months. The withdrawal of a handful of Umno MPs was sufficient to deprive Mr Muhyiddin of a majority.
But talk has swirled that Johor's royal household is among those against interfering in who Mr Ismail will appoint to Cabinet and other government positions.
"Johor will not be involved in any decision that compromises the Constitution, royal institution and well-being of the people. The priority is national stability, the livelihood of the people and not self-interest," the state's crown prince Tunku Ismail Iskandar said in a social media posting Friday.
Calls for a "war Cabinet" comprising leaders from various parties as well as non-partisan experts have grown since Mr Muhyiddin stepped down, as Malaysia continues to be in the throes of its deadliest Covid-19 wave. Daily infection records have continued to be broken this week despite nearly four months of lockdown and an accelerated vaccination programme.
It is unclear if the royals can prevail on a premier who has a clear majority, as the Constitution obliges the King to appoint ministers in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. At least 111 lawmakers are needed for a simple majority in the 222-seat Parliament. Two seats are currently vacant.
However, with Mr Muhyiddin's battle to stay in power finally undone after a clash with the palace over the revocation of emergency ordinances last month, Malaysia's politicians are wary of courting potential accusations of treason against the rulers, who are revered by the Malay Muslim majority as guardians of their ethnic and religious interests.
The 114 MPs supporting Mr Ismail are an exact replica of those who were in the Muhyiddin administration. They include members of the caretaker premier's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Umno - save renegade Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah - as well as several smaller parties and independents.
However, GPS chief Abang Johari Openg has been coy about who they have nominated, although other leaders in Sarawak state's ruling coalition have said that they picked Mr Ismail, who was Mr Muhyiddin's deputy in the previous government.
Some in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Harapan party were holding on to a flicker of hope, after the former deputy premier finally coaxed other opposition parties to support his candidacy, adding 17 MPs to his coalition's existing 88, bringing the total to 105.
- Scratching your head over Malaysia's shape-shifting politics? Join ST's Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh to get the lowdown in our Clubhouse live chat today from 12.45pm to 1.30pm.