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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's Muhyiddin gains nod from king to be next prime minister

Mahathir challenges appointment of dark horse candidate

Muhyiddin Yassin, the leader of Mahathir Mohamad's party, served as deputy prime minister under Najib Razak.    © AP

KUALA LUMPUR -- Muhyiddin Yassin, a former deputy prime minister who recently took the helm of Mahathir Mohamad's Malaysian United Indigenous Party, was appointed on Saturday by Malaysia's king to become the nation's eighth prime minister.

Mahathir challenged the appointment, saying in a statement "I am confident I have the numbers to garner a majority support from" members of parliament to keep the post. Earlier Saturday, Mahathir said he had struck a deal with his old rival and political veteran Anwar Ibrahim to be reappointed as prime minister. 

However, Muhyiddin claims to have the support of the opposition National Front coalition and the Malaysian Islamic Party, known as PAS, though Mahathir said the level of support was incorrect.

Muhyiddin also claims to have become the head of Mahathir's party, which is know as Bersatu, when the 94-year old stepped down as prime minister and Bersatu leader in a stunning move earlier this week.

After receiving party leaders from the lower house of parliament, King Sultan Ri'ayatuddin Abdullah named Muhyiddin, who represents the Pagoh parliamentary constituency, leader of the new government. Muhyiddin is expected to be sworn in at the National Palace on Sunday, in front of the king.

"His Majesty has ordered for the appointment process of the new prime minister to be expedited, as the country is in need of a government to ensure the well-being of the people and the country that we all adore," Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, the royal household comptroller said in a statement.

"The king also said that this decision is the best for all and expressed hope that this political debacle will end," Ahmad Fadil said.

"I hope all Malaysians receive well the news announced by the palace for the well-being of the country and our people. I would like to thank the king for entrusting me to lead the nation," Muhyiddin told reporters after his appointment.

The appointment denies Anwar his chance to take the prime minister's reins from Mahathir. Anwar had been considered the heir apparent based on an agreement the two men made before Mahathir's stunning return to power in the May 2018 general election.

Mahathir resigned as prime minister on Feb. 24, thrusting the nation into political turmoil. The appointment also brings to a close Mahathir's attempt to hang on as prime minister.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and PAS -- the two largest opposition parties with a combined strength of 57 parliamentarians -- threw their weight behind Muhyiddin.

Similar to Anwar, Muhyiddin, 72, used to be a member of the UMNO. While Anwar was once a deputy prime minister under Mahathir, Muhyiddin held the same post under Najib Razak. Both lost their jobs as deputy premiers for different reasons.

Muhyiddin, who served as deputy prime minister from April 2009 to July 2015, was terminated by Najib for his vocal criticism over the scandal-marred sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The now-defunct fund amassed huge debt, hurting the economy and undermining public confidence.

After his sacking, Muhyiddin joined Mahathir to form Bersatu before the 2018 general election. He campaigned nationwide and helped the party end the 63-year rule of the National Front. After the victory, Mahathir appointed Muhyiddin home minister, in charge of internal security.

Not long after the election, Muhyiddin was diagnosed with an early-stage tumor in his pancreas and was admitted to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital. He has been recovering, and makes occasional trips to the neighboring city-state for follow-up checks.

Muhyiddin has held several other federal jobs since 1995, including minister of youth and sports; minister of domestic trade and consumer affairs; minister of agriculture and agro-based industry; minister of international trade and industry; and minister of education.

Earlier in his career, Muhyiddin was chief minister of Malaysia's southernmost state of Johor from 1986 to 1995.

The political turmoil began last week as Anwar, widely seen as prime minister in waiting, had urged Mahathir to step down after Malaysia hosts the APEC summit in November. Some players in the ruling coalition pulled out, attempting to form a new coalition with the opposition in order to keep Mahathir in power.

But Mahathir resigned on Monday, refusing to take part in government with the long-ruling UMNO, a party he once led. After Mahathir stepped down he was appointed interim prime minister by King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin.

The king later met with members of the lower house, but no clear winner emerged. Mahathir sought to form a nonpartisan government and later said that the lower house would vote for a new prime minister on March 2. But the king and the speaker of the lower house denied that such a deal had been reached.

Muhyiddin on Friday took the lead in the race for the premiership. But Mahathir secured the support of Anwar's Alliance of Hope the following day in an attempt to block Muhyiddin's appointment.

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