King names Muhyiddin as PM but Mahathir stakes claim

Confusion over Malaysia's next leader on day of drama as two candidates vie for top job

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his wife Noraini Abdul Rahman meeting the press outside his home in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, after the King said he had chosen the 72-year-old as Malaysia's new prime minister.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his wife Noraini Abdul Rahman meeting the press outside his home in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, after the King said he had chosen the 72-year-old as Malaysia's new prime minister. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's swearing-in as Malaysia's eighth prime minister, scheduled for this morning, was left uncertain last night as interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad challenged the validity of the impending appointment.

Hours after the palace made the surprise announcement that it would install Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir issued a statement accusing the 72-year-old of misrepresenting his level of support to the monarch.

Dr Mahathir included a list of 114 MPs he said would back his premiership, adding he would present statutory declarations from all of them to the King. "I hope that the King will accept my letter and my explanation," he said.

The 94-year-old's eleventh-hour appeal cast a cloud over what had seemed like a day when Malaysia's week-long political impasse would end with victory for Mr Muhyiddin.

The palace had said just before 5pm yesterday that the King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Ahmad Shah, believed Mr Muhyiddin had the support of Parliament.

"After receiving representations from all party leaders and independent MPs, in the opinion of His Majesty, Pagoh MP Tan Sri Mahiaddin bin Md Yassin (Muhyiddin) is likely to have the confidence of MPs," the palace announced.

"The King decreed that the process to appoint a prime minister should not be delayed because the country needs a government for the prosperity of the people and the country we love.

"The King decreed this to be the best outcome for all and His Highness hopes this political crisis would end."

It added that Mr Muhyiddin was to be officially installed at 10.30am in the palace today.

Mr Muhyiddin, a political veteran, who has led several ministries and was the chief minister of Johor across a political career spanning more than three decades, told reporters he was grateful to be chosen.

He asked Malaysians to accept the King's decision.

"I hope that all Malaysians will accept this decision announced by the Istana Negara today," he said at his home after the announcement was made.

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Mr Muhyiddin had claimed the support of all 36 members of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), which included Dr Mahathir.

Mr Muhyiddin was to lead what was being called a "backdoor government" by forming a coalition dominated by opposition parties like Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia that were defeated at the 2018 general election.

Yesterday had started with Dr Mahathir - silent on Friday as Mr Muhyiddin became a front runner - thrusting himself back into the fray, saying he did not agree to the "backdoor government" being formed.

The 94-year-old put himself forward as PM with the support of Pakatan Harapan, which agreed to shift its support back to him from Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, 72.

However, before any formal representations could be made to the King, the palace released its statement on Mr Muhyiddin.

Mr Muhyiddin and his allies did not respond to Dr Mahathir's challenge by press time though they had earlier claimed they had the support of 114 MPs - the same number quoted by Dr Mahathir.

All eyes are now on whether the swearing-in at the palace will take place as planned. Observers say that even if Mr Muhyiddin were to be sworn in, he will likely face a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

The political crisis last week had seen the ruling Pakatan Harapan collapse due to defections. It subsequently led to Dr Mahathir resigning as PM only to be appointed as interim premier by the King.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 01, 2020, with the headline King names Muhyiddin as PM but Mahathir stakes claim. Subscribe