Malaysia’s new leader a ‘very serious, boring man’, Latest World News - The New Paper

Malaysia’s new leader a ‘very serious, boring man’

This article is more than 12 months old

KUALA LUMPUR: The man who emerged from a week of turmoil as Malaysia's new prime minister yesterday is a publicity-shy picture of conservatism.

When Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, 72, heard news on Saturday that the Malaysian king, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, had picked him over 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, the outspoken leader who has dominated Malaysian politics for decades, he dropped to the carpet in tears to give thanks to Allah.

"He is a very serious, boring man," said one person who has worked with him for years and did not want to be identified.

"Probably that is what Malaysia needs now rather than a camera-hunting, publicity-stunt type of man."

A conservative Muslim, Mr Muhyiddin staked his claim to the premiership when Dr Mahathir failed to rally support for a unity government after his shock resignation as prime minister last week.

"I am a Malay first, I want to say that," Mr Muhyiddin said in 2010. "But being Malay does not mean that you are not Malaysian."

Such sentiment struck a chord at a time of disaffection within the Malay majority over a perceived loss of privileges under Dr Mahathir's government.

"Like a good striker, he saw the opening he did not expect and took advantage to score," well-known Malaysian lawyer Zaid Ibrahim said about the low-profile Mr Muhyiddin, who was interior minister under Dr Mahathir.

Born to a well-known cleric in the southern state of Johor when Malaysia was still under British colonial rule, Mr Muhyiddin became a civil servant before entering politics with Umno at a time when Dr Mahathir was already prominent in the party.

Mr Muhyiddin became chief minister of Johor at the age of 39, a nine-year stint that set the stage for his national career.

After being fired by then prime minister Najib Razak for going against him in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad graft scandal, Mr Muhyiddin joined Dr Mahathir in setting up the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in 2016 and formed the alliance with Mr Anwar that led to the fall of Najib.

Mr Muhyiddin, who is recovering from early-stage pancreatic cancer, has four children, one of them a well-known singer. - REUTERS