GP Insights

GP Insights # 270, 29 February 2020

Malaysia: A new Prime Minister, and the beginning of a political turmoil?
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

What happened?
On 29 February, Muhyiddin Yassin has been appointed as the new prime minister of Malaysia. The king declared that he has reached this decision after discussing with all the Parliamentarians. This declaration will hopefully end a week-long political turmoil. This started with the collapse of the ruling coalition and the resignation of the preceding Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, on 24 February.

The King requested Mahathir to continue as interim Prime Minister, till the government is formed again. However, on 28 February, he requested the King to re-appoint him as the Prime Minister; the King refused the same.

What is the background?
The 2018 election, brought the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to power and also brought two prominent leaders Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim together, after years of a feud. Anwar was Mahathir's deputy during his previous tenure, but there was a dispute between them due to financial crisis. They were successful in ousting the Najib Razak's government on the grounds of a failing economy and corruption. 

The coalition was formed with an understanding that Mahathir subsequently would handover the leadership over to Anwar. However, he refused to set a date, even after Anwar pressed for it.

On 23 February, ten members of Anwar's People’s Justice Party (PKR) had met some members of Mahathir's party and also members of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), with the intention of forming a new government. This led to the collapse of the ruling coalition, and Mahathir's resignation. Anwar met the King, to seek justice, who in turn met with all the 222 members of parliament, other Kings of the provinces and members of the Army to resolve the conflict.

Meanwhile, on 28 February, Mahathir claimed he patched with Anwar and wanted to re-instate as the Prime Minister again with the support of PH as a coalition.

What does it mean?
First, the appointment of the new Prime Minister does not imply the end of political turmoil. Muhyiddin Yassin needs to form a government, which needs to have 112 seats for a majority in 222 membered Parliament. On the one hand, in case Mahathir and Anwar come together and gain support from some provincial parties, they may gain the majority. This might bring Mahathir to power again, but he could not be the Prime Minister. On the other hand, Yassin who has been appointed as the new chairman of the PPMB, Mahathir’s party, has their support. He also enjoys the support of UMNO, a strong party. But it is unclear if he has the support of other ethnic parties to win the majority. Thus, this skirmish to form the government will continue for at least another week.

Second, in case Yassin forms a new coalition to form a government that will bring back, UMNO to power. This party has been in power in Malaysia since its independence in 1957, till 2018. UMNO is known for its pro-Malaya policies. Hence this will upset the Chinese, Indians and other ethnic minorities of Malaysia who forms 30 per cent of the population.

Third, this political turmoil has tarnished not only Mahathir’s image but the entire country's image internationally. Mahathir who was always revered as a respectable leader is currently referred to as ‘power-monger.’ He could have avoided this crisis by living up to his promise to Anwar. This has also impacted the already dipping economy, which has been hit from the impact of the COVID-19 virus in China.

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