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The Nikkei View

Malaysia's political infighting hinders economic progress

Party leaders should focus on policy instead of coalition-building numbers game

Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia's new prime minister, waves outside his house in Kuala Lumpur on March 1.   © Getty Images

The ongoing power struggle in Malaysia risks damaging international trust in its government, with potentially serious economic consequences -- something that should motivate leaders on all sides to bring the conflict to an end.

Infighting within the ruling coalition led to the abrupt resignation of Mahathir Mohamad -- who had returned to power in 2018 after a lengthy absence -- as prime minister. Muhyiddin Yassin, previously a close confidant of Mahathir, joined with members of the opposition and was chosen by the king to replace him.

But Mahathir is intent on returning to the top and claims to have the support of a majority of lower house lawmakers. The ever-shifting web of alliances among and within the country's 10-plus political parties has made it difficult to tell who is supported by whom.

If the parties continue to focus on making up the numbers for a new ruling coalition with no apparent thought for policymaking, the foundation of Malaysia's parliamentary democracy could be shaken. The political strife has already had an impact on the country's economy, weighing on stocks and the ringgit.

The current strife is rooted in the hodgepodge nature of the coalition that won the 2018 election. Mahathir and longtime rival Anwar Ibrahim joined forces just to defeat Najib Razak, decrying the then-prime minister's corruption and murky relationship with China.

Muhyiddin lacks political clout of his own, and his ability to govern rests in large part on support from the United Malays National Organization, the party Najib once led. Mahathir is already seeking a no-confidence vote in Parliament to bring down the new prime minister's cabinet. Stability seems a long way off.

Malaysia is among Southeast Asia's leading economies, with per capita gross domestic product exceeding $10,000. It forms a core part of the global supply chain for electronics and electrical equipment.

To keep up its economic growth, the country needs a plan for attracting foreign direct investment to modernize its industry. A mature and stable government will be an absolute necessity for this.

Leaders on both sides are saying little about their policy visions. The international community's disappointment in the situation in Kuala Lumpur is likely to only grow. This is not the time for unproductive political squabbling.

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