Muhyiddin emerges as front runner to be Malaysia's next PM, with backing from Umno and PAS

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin Yassin will have the support of 93 parliamentarians, just 19 shy of a simple majority. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin Yassin emerged on Friday (Feb 28) as the front runner to become Malaysia's prime minister after opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) agreed to back him.

Coupled with Bersatu's 36 MPs, the former deputy premier will have the support of 93 parliamentarians, just 19 shy of a simple majority.

The Straits Times understands that the coalition of Sarawak parties, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which has 18 MPs, is also set to announce its support.

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal's Warisan party, which has 9 MPs, is also expected to give their backing to Tan Sri Muhyiddin. He was seen as Mr Muhyiddin's house in the afternoon before leaving an hour later.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), both Umno allies in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition with three seats between them, have pledged their support for Muhyiddin on Friday, giving him a comfortable lead.

ST understands that Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who leads the largest party in the new coalition, will be deputy prime minister.

More than four sources from these parties or those involved in negotiations have separately told ST that Mr Muhyiddin, a former Johor chief minister, has sewn up support from as many as 131 MPs in the 222-strong chamber.

"GPS will make our stand as regard to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on March 1," Sarawak deputy chief minister James Masing told ST.

Umno and PAS issued a joint statement late on Friday that their 39 and 18 federal lawmakers respectively "are giving our full support to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin".

This comes after then Premier Mahathir Mohamad rejected the so-called National Alliance on Sunday, a collection of Pakatan Harapan (PH) rebels including from his own Bersatu, who banded together with opposition parties such as the BN, PAS and GPS.

They had wanted Tun Dr Mahathir to continue serving for the full term, instead of handing power to Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, as agreed under a transition pact before PH's shock 2018 election win.

Sources told ST that when Dr Mahathir instead resigned the premiership and Bersatu chairmanship on Monday, Mr Muhyiddin, 72, managed to hold the same group together.

"Eventually, even though they could not have Mahathir as PM, backing Muhyiddin still means Anwar won't be PM," an Umno official said.

Malaysia's King conducted interviews with all MPs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and PH said it had ordered all 92 of its MPs to back Datuk Seri Anwar.

However, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Ri-ayatuddin Ahmad Shah decreed on Friday that no candidate had secured the majority.

This was after 64 MPs said they backed Dr Mahathir, and another 61 said they preferred snap polls.

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However, ST understands that these two blocs that did not vote for Mr Anwar were already in the process of signing declarations supporting Mr Muhyiddin.

Meanwhile, Mr Anwar made clear last night that he was not yet defeated.

He wrote on Twitter: "I know for a fact some of the MPs on the 'other side' are unhappy that their party leaders have stolen their voice. Pakatan Harapan has the numbers."

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