Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has denied claims he betrayed former premier Mahathir Mohamad, and asked Malaysians to give his government a chance to prove itself, in his first public address as the country's new leader last night.
In the speech broadcast over national television, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president called for reconciliation after a week of political impasse, during which accusations of betrayal were flung across the political divide.
"I am a prime minister for all Malaysians from Perlis to Sabah. Whatever race or ethnicity, I am your prime minister. Give me a chance to use my 40 years of experience in politics and government to steer Malaysia to glory," he said in the pre-recorded message.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin last Monday led Bersatu out of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to join hands with then opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia, and a rebel faction from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). This resulted in PH losing its majority in Parliament.
The move was intended to ensure that Tun Dr Mahathir could serve a full term instead of handing the reins over to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as agreed by the PH coalition in 2018.
But Dr Mahathir baulked at the prospect of having to work with Umno, a party he campaigned against in 2018 and accused of being riddled with corruption.
He then resigned as premier last Monday, sending the country into a week-long search for a new leader who could form a government.
Mr Muhyiddin explained in his speech that he did not "dream of the post of prime minister" and had supported Dr Mahathir to return as premier. But, he said, after the 94-year-old statesman failed to gain the majority backing of lawmakers, who were all interviewed by the Malaysian King, he was nominated by Bersatu and other parties who said he had majority support.
"I met with Tun Dr Mahathir... and witnessed by two other party leaders, he said he was prepared to make way for me if I had the majority," said Mr Muhyiddin.
The King announced last Saturday evening that Mr Muhyiddin would be sworn in as Malaysia's eighth Prime Minister, amid claims from Dr Mahathir that it was he, and not Mr Muhyiddin, who had the support of the majority of lawmakers in the 222-seat Parliament.
Less than one-fifth of MPs in the Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) which Mr Muhyiddin now leads were voted in under a PH ticket during the last general election in 2018, leading to accusations that it is a "backdoor" government.
PM Lee's congratulatory letter to PM Muhyiddin
March 2, 2020
Dear Prime Minister Muhyiddin,
Congratulations on being sworn in as Malaysia's eighth Prime Minister.
Malaysia and Singapore share a deep, longstanding relationship. We are connected by history, geography and close bonds of friendship and kinship. Over the years, Singapore has cooperated with successive Malaysian governments in a wide range of areas, for mutual benefit. You would be familiar with many of these projects, from your previous appointments in the federal government, as well as the Menteri Besar of Johor. I am confident that our bilateral relationship will continue to thrive and flourish under your leadership as Prime Minister of Malaysia.
I appreciate having the chance to speak to you on the phone yesterday, amidst your many urgent preoccupations. I wish to reiterate my invitation to you to make an official visit to Singapore, at your earliest convenience. There are many areas our two countries can move forward on together, in the current challenging external environment.
Ho Ching and I send our best wishes for your good health and happiness. We look forward to meeting you and Puan Sri Datin Noorainee again soon.
Yours sincerely, Lee Hsien Loong
But Mr Muhyiddin said: "I know there are those who are angry with me. As expected, some have called me a traitor. My conscience is clear that I am here to save the country from a prolonged crisis."
He also addressed concerns that several Umno leaders, who collectively face hundreds of graft charges, would now be part of his government. "I promise to appoint a Cabinet of individuals who are clean, with integrity and of calibre. My government will also prioritise efforts to increase integrity and good governance," he said.
Concerns that the new government would no longer proceed with criminal cases against members of its new ally came to the fore yesterday, when Umno president Zahid Hamidi, who faces dozens of criminal charges for corruption and money laundering, was given time off from his trial to attend a meeting with Mr Muhyiddin.
The meeting, Zahid later said, was meant to discuss appointments to the Cabinet, but it did not take place as the Prime Minister was not available. Zahid clarified that the ongoing graft case had been deferred for only a day, and that the charges against him had not been dropped.
"The case has not been withdrawn... Insya Allah (God willing), I will clear my name in court without any of the cases being withdrawn," he said in a statement yesterday. "I want the court to decide, although the charges are political prosecutions and selective in nature."