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Malaysia in transition

Muhyiddin Yassin: Dark horse candidate emerges as Malaysia's PM

Ascent to power required snubbing Mahathir and former coalition partners

Malaysia's Prime Minister Designate and former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin waves to reporters before his inauguration as the 8th prime minister, outside his residence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 1.   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's Muhyiddin Yassin was never considered as a prime minister-candidate in the week-long political crisis which pushed incumbent Mahathir Mohamad to resign. The race was always between Mahathir and his protege-turned-rival-turned-ally Anwar Ibrahim.

Now, the so-called coup appears complete with Muhyiddin, 72, set to take oath in the National Palace at 10.30 am (local time) Sunday as the country's eighth prime minister. The ousting was staged by Anwar's rival Azmin Ali, from the People's Justice Party, together with Mahathir-led Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) and other smaller opposition parties.

To ascend to power, Muhyiddin had to snub Mahathir and his former coalition partners in the Alliance of Hope. Mahathir was adamant of not approving Muhyiddin's plan to befriend his former political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) -- which Mahathir and Muhyiddin, together with the alliance threw out from power via a general election in May 2018.

Muhyiddin was born on May 15, 1947, in a devout Muslim family. His father Muhammad Yassin Muhammad was a renowned cleric in Johor. An economics major at the University of Malaya -- the country's oldest tertiary center -- Muhyiddin started his career as a government employee. He left the civil service in 1974 to join the corporate sector, followed by involvement in politics.

He married Noorainee Abdul Rahman in September 1972, a year after Muhyiddin registered as a member of UMNO branch in Johor. The couple has four children and six grandchildren. Two of their children are singers and own production houses.

Muhyiddin became chief minister of Johor state, which borders Singapore, in 1986 and held the post until 1995. He was appointed by Mahathir as the country's youth and sports minister in May 1995, overseeing the Commonwealth Games Malaysia hosted in 1998.

Muhyiddin rose through the ranks of government and UMNO, and was elected the party's deputy president in 2009 after his predecessor Najib Razak was named as the party's president and Malaysia's sixth prime minister. He also served as the National Front coalition's deputy chair and deputy prime minister.

Muhyiddin Yassin, left, with Najib Razak in 2013. Muhyiddin at the time was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister while Najib was the Prime Minister.   © Reuters

Muhyiddin holds a lower house seat for Pagoh constituency, his eighth consecutive term. Pagoh is located in Muar in Johor, close to his hometown.

Muhyiddin remained deputy prime minister until July 2015, after which he was dropped by Najib in a cabinet reshuffle as a result of his vocal opposition to the handling of the scandal-marred 1Malaysia Development (1MDB) fund, which had amassed huge debt which undermined the country's economy. Najib was the adviser of now-defunct 1MDB. Muhyiddin was tossed out of UMNO in February 2016 after he attended an anti-Najib gathering led by Mahathir.

He joined hands with Mahathir in 2017 to form Bersatu and teamed up with former opposition parties to form the Alliance of Hope. That alliance swept the National Front from power after 63 years in a stunning 2018 election. After forming the government, Muhyiddin was appointed home minister, in charge of internal security of the country.

After the 2018 election, Muhyiddin was diagnosed with an early stage tumor in the pancreas and was admitted in Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital. He has since been recovering and been traveling to Singapore for occasional checkups.

Besides deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin has held several ministerial posts including: minister of domestic trade and consumer affairs, minister of agriculture and agro-based industry, minister of international trade and industry, and education minister.

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