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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir ups ante on Muhyiddin with substitute pick for Malaysia PM

Nomination of Shafie Apdal hinges on support of Anwar and 37 PKR lawmakers

KUALA LUMPUR -- Mahathir Mohamad has chosen a challenger to replace Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, apparently ruling out a return to power for himself in the hope of toppling the man who has become his nemesis.

Mahathir, who is two weeks shy of his 95th birthday, on Saturday nominated Shafie Apdal to lead Malaysia if Muhyiddin loses the confidence of parliament. Mahathir also said he would push a no-confidence motion against the premier when the legislature sits on July 13.

Shafie is a seasoned politician and chief minister of the eastern state of Sabah. His elevation follows a series of moves by Mahathir to heap pressure on Muhyiddin, who became the country's eighth prime minister on March 1 after an internal coup prompted the nonagenarian's resignation.

In a statement released on Saturday, Mahathir said opposition leaders had agreed to Shafie's nomination at an informal meeting, with the notable exception of longtime prime minister hopeful Anwar Ibrahim and his People's Justice Party (PKR).

The PKR recently rejected a proposal to name Mahathir as the next prime minister, vowing to only support Anwar for the top job.

"In the discussion, I was open to any suggestions, including me not being nominated as the next prime minister," Mahathir said. He added that Anwar and Mukhriz Mahathir would be recommended as deputy prime ministers under the plan.

Mukhriz is Mahathir's son and a two-term former chief minister of the northern state of Kedah.

On his plan for the no-confidence motion, Mahathir said that "God willing," parliament members who "cannot accept the backdoor government of Muhyiddin and want to return the people's mandate to us will support the motion for Shafie Apdal to be the prime minister."

The math, however, looks bleak for Mahathir, Shafie and the no-confidence motion unless they can secure the support of Anwar and the 37 other PKR MPs.

Furthermore, while Mahathir claimed that the decision to name Shafie was taken together with leaders of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the National Trust Party, the heads of both parties painted a somewhat different picture.

They clarified in a joint statement that the decision was only preliminary, and would still need the approval of the Alliance of Hope coalition, which Anwar chairs.

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