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Malaysia’s Parliament to vote on new candidate for PM on Monday

This article is more than 12 months old

Interim PM Mahathir Mohamad says if nobody can win majority support in the vote on Monday, there will be a snap election

KUALA LUMPUR: Get ready for some major horse trading as the race to become Malaysia's next prime minister nears the finish line.

At the moment the front runners are Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his long-time foe Anwar Ibrahim, but coming in a close third is former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Expect to see MPs cross party lines as they align with the person they think will likely be prime minister.

The reason?

Malaysia's Parliament will vote on a new candidate for prime minister on Monday, and if nobody can win majority support, there will be a snap election, interim Prime Minister Mahathir said yesterday.

The country slid into political turmoil this week with the unexpected resignation of Dr Mahathir, who at 94 is the world's oldest government leader.

It set off a new tussle for power between him and old rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72.

Dr Mahathir said the choice of premier would go to Parliament after the Malaysian king, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, had told him no candidate had emerged with enough support to become prime minister.

The King had held two days of consultations with individual lawmakers.

Parliament will be convened on March 2, Dr Mahathir said.

"If (Parliament) fails to find a person with the majority then we will have to go for a snap election," he said.

Previously, the post of prime minister has gone to a party or an alliance with a majority in parliament rather than through a vote for individual candidates.

"This is unprecedented," said Mr Adib Zalkapli, Malaysia director for Bower Group Asia.

"We can expect a lot of horse trading in the coming days."

Dr Mahathir's resignation broke a coalition with Mr Anwar that had scored a surprise election victory two years ago, restoring to power the leader who had governed Malaysia from 1981 to 2003.

The volatile relationship between Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir helped trigger the current crisis after Dr Mahathir resisted pressure to set a date for a transfer of power to Mr Anwar, as agreed ahead of the 2018 election.

Dr Mahathir has called for a unity government not based on party allegiances, saying it is needed as Malaysia's economy is flagging amid the impact of the coronavirus - for which he announced a US$4.7 billion (S$6.6 billion) stimulus package yesterday.


But critics say that such a unity government could give Dr Mahathir greater power than ever.

Mr Anwar has said he opposes such a "backdoor government".

Electoral watchdog Bersih said yesterday this would give the prime minister absolute power.

"While the motivation for such a proposal may be noble given the political and economic crisis, we have clearly expressed our objection to such a notion as it would effectively give the prime minister dictatorial powers with no accountability," it said.

Umno, which ruled Malaysia for six decades until being defeated in 2018, also rejected the idea of a unity government.

Umno's popular support has been surging, and it said it wanted new elections.

The three parties in Mr Anwar's alliance have the biggest share of the votes with 92 seats in Parliament, but short of a 112-vote majority to secure him the post of prime minister.

Dr Mahathir also suggested that another candidate could be Mr Muhyiddin, who leads Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and has been willing to work with Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

All 26 Bersatu MPs and 11 independent MPs aligned with sacked Parti Keadilan Rakyat leader Azmin Ali will back Mr Muhyiddin's bid, said the party's supreme council member Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof. - REUTERS, THE STAR